Women, gender and migration along a Mediterranean frontier: Pre-colonial Tunisia, c. 1815-1870

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This paper investigates gendered mechanisms for regulating migrants and migration in a pre-colonial Muslim state, Tunisia, from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the eve of colonialism. Trans-Mediterranean migration to, and permanent settlement in, nineteenth-century Tunis, the capital city, constituted a major stimulus for political, cultural and social transformations that endured into the colonial period. Employing diverse documentation, the case study analyses this Mediterranean migratory current of ordinary women and men to test the theoretical literature based primarily on trans-Atlantic movements, which has emphasised the 'diversity of social positioning' for women migrants. The paper argues that for pre-colonial Tunisia, a state that was both an Ottoman province and a part of the larger Mediterranean world, the system of diplomatic protection represented a critical form of positioning. Moreover, Mediterranean states, both European and Muslim, had a long tradition of controlling the movements of women in port cities. Two distinct historical moments in the settlement of women from the Mediterranean islands in pre-colonial Tunisia are compared. This approach not only enables an assessment of whether women's movements across international borders can attenuate, if only momentarily, patriarchal authority, but also encourages reflection on how gender explains historical variations in global migratory displacements as well as to what extent colonialism serves as an satisfactory explanatory framework for the gendering of communal boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-92+IV-V
JournalGender and History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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