The University of Wisconsin Press

African Studies / Economics & Business / Environmental Science / Geography


Desert Frontier
Ecological and Economic Change Along the Western Sahel, 1600–1850
James L. A. Webb Jr.

"This brief but very richly documented book manages to combine all the leading perspectives of current Africanist historiography and thus provides not only a valuable account of its own region but also a model for wider studies of slavery and enslavement."
—Ralph  A. Austen, Slavery and Abolition

Desert Frontier is a study of the ecological and economic impact of a long-term trend toward increasing aridity along the southern edge of the western Sahara. Beginning in the early seventeenth century, this climatological trend forced the desert approximately 200–300 kilometers to the south, transforming ethnic identities and ways of life along the length of the Sahel. Based on extensive archival research and on Saharan oral data, Desert Frontier argues that the principal historical dynamics of the precolonial Sahel were determined by this pervasive ecological crisis, rather than by the dynamics of a European-dominated world system.

“This is a truly pioneering work in the environmental history of Africa, taking as its point of departure the striking shifts in climate and ecology along the western desert edge over two and a half centuries. It not only takes account of climate and natural ecology; it shows in detail how profoundly environmental change influenced human history on both sides of the desert edge.”—Philip D. Curtin, Johns Hopkins University

James L. A. Webb Jr, is associate professor of history at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

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December 1994

LC: 94-010506 HC
208 pp.   6 x 9
8 halftones, 4 maps, 1 photo

The 1994 cloth edition, ISBN-10: 0-299-14330-9 is out of print.

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ISBN 978-0-299-14334-3
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“Webb has culled virtually all of the original data available and created a new configuration, the Sahel, which forces readers to think in new ways about this shifting region and its shifting configurations and identities. Each chapter is a pearl.”
—David Robinson, Michigan State University

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