This work examines the place of literacy in the organization of African economies, from Antiquity to the mid-fifteenth century. This is a broad synthesis that begins with a reflection on the place of paper in world history, and goes on to consider how commercial literacy and legal institutions shaped what I call ‘paper economies.’
My next projects include a study of the evolution of women's rights in Muslim Africa, and the second volume of my first book on the organization of trans-Saharan caravan trade, focused on the twentieth century.
Ph.D. (History) Michigan State University & BA (African Studies) McGill University.
Winner of the Martin A. Klein Prize in African History at the 125th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Boston for On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009; paperback 2012).
The maps in this book were beautifully crafted by Don Pirius of Cartographic Services.
This book explores the history of trans-Saharan trade in western Africa in the nineteenth century. It treats the Sahara as a bridge that connected peoples across the continent. This is the first study of its kind to document the history and organization of trans-Saharan trade in western Africa using original source material. It examines the internal dynamics of a trade network system based on a case-study of the Wad Nun traders who specialized in outfitting camel caravans in the nineteenth century. Through an examination of contracts, correspondence, fatwas, and interviews with retired caravaners, Lydon shows how traders used their literacy skills in Arabic and how they had recourse to experts of Islamic law to regulate their long-distance transactions. The book also considers the methods employed by women participating in caravan trade. By embracing a continental approach, this study bridges the divide between West African and North African studies. The work will be of interest to students of African, Middle Eastern, and world history and to scholars of long-distance trade, Muslim societies, and legal cultures.
With Graziano Kratli, The Trans-Saharan Book Trade: Arabic Literacy, Manuscript Culture, and Intellectual History in Islamic Africa (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
Recent Articles and Chapters
Lydon and Bruce Hall, “Excavating Arabic Sources for the Writing on Slavery in Western African
History.” In Martin Klein, Sandra Green and Alice Bellagamba (Eds.), African Voices on Slavery and
the Slave Trade: Essays on Sources and Methods (New York, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
March 2016), 3-49.
“Oceans and Bridges, Barriers and Divides in Africa’s Historiographical Landscape.” Journal of African
History 56:1 (2015), 3-22.
The ‘Hidden Transcripts’ and Rights of Slaves in the Muslim World: A Legal Case from Nineteenth-
Century Mauritania” In Martin Klein, Sandra Green and Alice Bellagamba (Eds.), African Voices on
Slavery and the Slave Trade: The Sources (New York, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013),