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Title: European influence and tribal society in Tunisia during the nineteenth century : the origins and impact of the trade in esparto grass 1870-1940
Author: McQuarrie, Gavin
ISNI:       0000 0001 3389 2998
Awarding Body: Durham University
Current Institution: Durham University
Date of Award: 1995
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This study seeks to examine the specific circumstances surrounding the development of a trade in alfa, or esparto, grass, between Britain and southern Tunisia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning abruptly in 1871, within the space of ten years alfa grass had became not only the principal item of foreign trade in the south but also one of the whole country's most important exports. What differentiates the alfa trade from existing commercial activities in Tunisia at the time is that it was carried on between European merchants and the inhabitants of districts which were only marginally integrated into the political structures of the central government and the externally orientated market economy of the coastal and urban regions. A mainly pastoral and overwhelmingly subsistence orientated population, the tribes of south and central Tunisia were, on the surface, an unlikely labour force for the collection and sale of a plant which was laborious and time consuming to gather, and whose sale offered what were often extremely meagre returns. In attempting to understand and explain how and why a people, hitherto largely unconnected with and uninterested in direct, market orientated transactions within Tunisia, should enter into economic relations of such magnitude with European industrialists, the study has highlighted a number of interesting issues relating to the penetration of capitalism into what is commonly termed the periphery. Although many of the findings may be specific to Tunisia it is clear that the alfa trade there emerged as a result of a complex interplay of local, regional and international factors which had some surprising origins and some interesting results. Although fulfilling many of the criteria for Myint's "vent-for-surplus" theory of international trade, the alfa trade in Tunisia neither caused any far reaching social change nor did it result in any independent and self-sustaining economic development in the south of the country. Indeed the alfa trade helped mask, and undoubtedly prolonged, the growing economic and social crisis in southern Tunisia as the region underwent a painful integration into the developing national economy. With little to offer the country in terms of natural resources southern Tunisia was sucked dry of its surplus wealth yet deprived of any corresponding investment.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Alfa grass; Paper