Maysam Taher: Borders in Disrepair: Archival Excavations and Present Crises at the Hinges of the Mediterranean
Taher’s dissertation examines the only treaty of colonial reparations implemented to date: the Treaty of Friendship, Partnership, and Cooperation, signed by Muammar Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi in 2008. The treaty performs a dual function: that of compensating Libya for colonial crimes committed by Italy between 1911 and 1947 through $5 billion USD for infrastructural investments, and that of establishing and funding an extraterritorial infrastructure of Mediterranean border policing located in Libya. Rather than repairing the history of conquest, deportation, and confinement, the treaty inscribes into law the reproduction of extractivism and carcerality, now appearing under different and renewed post-colonial forms. Taher’s dissertation charts how the anti-colonial nationalist historiography produced by the Libyan Studies Center beginning in 1978, with both its successes and shortcomings, was central to the articulation of this treaty. In doing so, Taher demonstrates how colonial archives, their post-colonial rearrangements, and their counter-archival off-shoots are themselves institutions of border-making and unmaking, with material effects that can shape the present and open up multiple futures.
Maysam Taher lives, teaches, and writes in several places between Italy, Libya, and the United States. She is a PhD candidate in the Culture and Representation track of the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. Her interests include borders and migration, deportation and confinement, fascism, post-colonialism, archival methodologies, and the question of historical recovery in relation to projects of reparations. Taher’s research takes the Southern Mediterranean as a site of departure for examining how institutions of cultural and knowledge production participate in the global articulation, management and governance of borders. She was a 2017-18 Doctoral Fellow in Urban Practice at Gallatin’s Urban Democracy Lab, and is a 2019-20 Doctoral Research Fellow at the NYU Center for the Humanities.