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HomeFrontiers and Border Regions

Frontiers and Border Regions

Frontières et régions frontalières

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Published on Thursday, April 12, 2018


La notion de limite d’État est présente dès l’Antiquité. En effet, l’Empire romain est bordé, à partir du Ier siècle, par un limes, ligne de postes fortifiés permettant de contrôler et de repousser les populations « barbares » vivant de l’autre côté. Par endroit, il s’agit d’une ligne continue. Ainsi, entre 122 et 127, l’empereur Hadrien fait édifier un mur de 117 kilomètres entre l’Angleterre et l’Ecosse actuelles. Au VIe siècle, l’historien byzantin Procope de Césarée distingue bien la romaion gè (terre des Romains) et les autres régions situées au-delà. Le mot « frontières » apparaît en français au XIIIe siècle. Il dérive du terme militaire « front » désignant la zone de contact avec une armée ennemie. L’acception actuelle se fixe progressivement à partir du XIVe siècle, à mesure que les pouvoirs étatiques se renforcent et qu’ils soumettent les territoires dépendant d’eux à des lois et à des impôts. Le progrès des techniques cartographiques et les travaux des ingénieurs topographes qui se développent à l’époque moderne permettent aux dirigeants de mieux définir les limites de leurs territoires et de mieux les contrôler. Cependant la fixation des frontières n’est pas uniforme dans le temps et, au XXe siècle, certains pays, en proie à des difficultés politiques ou économiques, n’ont pas encore exactement précisé l’emplacement de leurs confins.


(Béja-Tunisia, 28-29-30 November 2018)


The Tunisian-Mediterranean Association for Historical, Social and Economic Studies and the Tunisian World Center for Studies, Research, and Development will organize on the 28th, 29th and 30th of November 2018 the 11th International Symposium on the theme: Borders and Border Regions.

The notion of state boundaries has been present since ancient times. Indeed, the Roman Empire was bounded, from the first century onward, by a limes, a line of fortified posts to control and repel the "barbarians" living on the other side. In some places it was a continuous line. Thus, between 122 and 127 A.D., Emperor Hadrian had a 117-kilometer long wall built between present-day England and Scotland. In the sixth century, the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea made a clear distinction between the romaion gè (land of the Romans) and the lands outside that.

The word frontières appears in French in the 13th century. It derives from the military term front, which means the area of contact with an enemy army. The present meaning became progressively standardized from the fourteenth century onwards, as state powers become stronger and brought under their control dependent territories on whom they imposed laws and taxes .  The progress of cartographic techniques and the work of topographical engineers which developed in modern times allowed leaders to better define the limits of their territories and better control them . However, the setting of borders was not a uniform process, and by the twentieth century certain countries, in the grip of political or economic difficulties, had not yet exactly defined their borders.

Borders: definitions

A border is a legal line that marks the boundary of a national territory and separates it from the territory of another state or from an international area. It spatially delimits the authority of the state whose exclusivity it ensures . This is the classic legal definition of the border. At sea, the limit until the end of the Second World War was 3 nautical miles, which corresponded to the range of guns in the eighteenth century, and today it is 12 miles from the low-tide mark . When the width of a strait is less than 24 miles, the border between the two bordering states is equidistant from the two coasts. The economic zone in which a state has the right to manage resources extends up to 200 miles from the coast . National airspace refers to the vertical elevation of a state's land borders. The Treaty of Space (October 27, 1967), under the auspices of the United Nations, guarantees free access to outer space; activities in space must be of a peaceful and scientific character; it is forbidden to send nuclear weapons into the orbit of the earth, the moon, or any other celestial body.

Land borders can be artificial and seemingly arbitrary, especially in lowland areas . In some sparsely populated areas, boundaries can be geometrically drawn, usually following meridians and parallels, such as in the Sahara and in several parts of the United States. Natural boundaries are delimited by mountains, rivers and seas, according to the theory expressed during the French Revolution by Danton in a famous speech that he gave on January 13, 1793.

But so-called natural boundaries can be just as arbitrary as any others. In truth, even if interstate boundaries fall under international law, even if they are thought to be rational, they nevertheless reflect preexisting balances of power and geostrategic concerns. Indeed, they can be determined by the advance of an enemy army which annexes land by force, with the victor imposing its will on a defeated enemy, as was the case with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. In the same way, colonialization traced borders about which natives were not consulted. In the case of Africa, almost 90% of the boundaries between states were imposed by the European powers, notably at the Berlin Conference in 1885, by European states, the United States and the Ottoman Empire ; ethnic groups which were cultural units and which were accustomed to living together were thus broken up .  Motley countries were born, sometimes grouping together friendly populations, sometimes grouping together rivals or groups which had formerly enslaved other groups.  Ivory Coast, which today has a population of just over 20 million, has 60 to 87 ethnic groups or subgroups, speaking different languages and dialects . Burkina Faso, with less than 20 million inhabitants, has about 60 languages. In Liberia, which has 4.3 million inhabitants, about 20 languages are spoken .

In contemporary times, the right of peoples to self-determination has sometimes been invoked, leading to the organization of referendums bringing about territorial changes through peaceful means. But the principle of self-determination is often difficult to apply in regions where there are "mosaics of peoples”--i.e., in sectors where diverse national minorities are intermingled with each other in sometimes inextricable ways. This was the case in parts of Europe after the First World War.  Good examples are multinational countries such as the former countries of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, with neighboring Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Poles, Germans, Hungarians and others. Peoples with strong cultural identities have sometimes been dispersed and have become minority populations in other states.  This can be a factor of political unrest when they feel that their rights are not recognized.  In this way, a separatist current has appeared among English-speakers in Cameroon who feel that they are at a disadvantage compared with the French-speaking majority.

To ensure security, to prevent entry by invaders, terrorists and illegal migrants, and to maintain the cohesion of the state, countries establish more or less rigorous border controls. At various points on borders, one finds customs and police stations set up on roads or waterways, at airports, and in ports, to supervise the passage of individuals and merchandise.  In some cases, fortresses ae built; Vauban built such fortifications on the borders of the kingdom of France in the time of Louis XIV. On some borders one finds walls of varying degrees of strength and penetrability, such as the Great Wall of China, built over the course of several centuries, to a length of over 8,000 kilometers (or 21,000 kilometers, if we count the parts of the wall which have been destroyed).  Other walls run between the United States and Mexico, Israel and Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Spain and Morocco (in Ceuta and Melilla), and India and Bangladesh.  Along the 250,000 kilometers of borders in the world today, there exist about 70 walls . One of the best-known models of interstate separation through a wall was the Iron Curtain, which once isolated the communist powers from the West; this "thick border", to use the words of the historian Sabine Dullin, included fortifications, watchtowers, barbed wire, minefields, and many soldiers accompanied by dogs . Today a border of this kind separates the two Koreas.

Everywhere, whether the frontier is "thick" or thin, there are officials in charge of surveillance: police, and various kinds of guards, military, and customs agents. These men are armed or not, equipped with transport and communications equipment of varying degrees of sophistication, and sometimes assisted by dogs. Depending on whether they come from the border area or from far away, their relationship with the local natives can vary. 

Conflict and border crossing

On both sides of borders, it is common for there to be problems--various incidents, land claims, complaints from national minorities who say they are bullied, surreptitious moving of border markers to "nibble away" territory, passage of spies and saboteurs, sometimes military incursions, smuggling, and disagreements over the natural landmarks which determine borders or over rules of taxation.  As a result of border changes, sometimes people become owners of land on the other side of a border in the neighboring country; in the event of bad relations, one party can hinder or even prohibit the movement of people and goods.  In some regions, the management of water for irrigation and for other needs of the local populations can cause conflicts.  For example, Turkey, Syria and Iraq have not been able to agree on how to share the waters of the Euphrates; and Iran and Iraq fought each other from 1980 to 1988 for control of the Chatt el Arab, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet. In these conflicts, each party advances arguments to support its claims: theories of natural boundaries, principles of nationality, economic necessity, results of votes or polls, and linguistic considerations.  Such arguments are often self-serving and can mask imperialist interests .

In many cases, on their own initiative or under the auspices of international organizations, states have entered into negotiations to try to settle border disputes. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), considering that the borders inherited from colonization are a reality and that they have to a certain extent created national identities, accepts the principle, stated at the Cairo Conference (1964), that it is best to avoid border changes.  In the interest of maintaining peace, the OAU delimits precisely the borders of each country and, despite its failure in Sudan, tries to preserve the political cohesion of the continent .

However, history shows that very often border wars cannot be avoided; sometimes agreements patiently constructed in time of peace are overturned.  People living in border areas can be particularly affected by fighting, violence, looting and requisitioning, forced mobilization into militias, and sometimes internment or conscription.  As a result, civilians sometimes choose to flee, creating floods of refugees, piling up in camps that are considered "temporary" but in fact can be long-lasting. The media frequently have news about people who have lost their property and must live in tents or huts, dependent on food hand-outs, subject to the goodwill of foreign countries.

Clashes can be avoided when there is a real willingness to cooperate.  Countries that share similar political or economic philosophies or common values sometimes make agreements with each other. With the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957, six states of Western Europe created the Common Market, which, enriched by new memberships, later became the European Union in which members have aimed to harmonize their legislation and facilitate the free movement of persons, products and services. The European Convention on Transborder Co-operation, signed in Madrid on 21 May 1980, allows for working together on certain issues of common interest across borders.  Free zones, with exemptions from customs rules, offer tax advantages to attract investment and promote trade. Such zones are often located in ports and micro-states that attract tourists. Duty free shops, present in most airports, on planes and ships on international routes, do a brisk business. 

In contemporary times, observation satellites, nuclear missiles, and transmissions over the internet cross boundaries.  But cross-border phenomena have existed since long ago.  In the nineteenth century, Victor Hugo stated his famous formula: "In art, there are no borders" . In the cultural field, ideas and artistic activities are not limited by borders.  The example of languages and literatures is particularly enlightening. What the experts call isoglosses are imaginary lines, unrelated to political boundaries, which have a particular linguistic character. The border between Romance and Germanic languages, ignoring state borders, crosses the territories of France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. North Africa is a mosaic in linguistic matters.  There are juxtaposed, among others, Tamazight or Berber, classical Arabic, national dialects such as Tunisian or Algerian, regional sub-dialects such as those of Tunis, Cairo or Fes, Hassaniyya spoken in Mauritania, Saharan and sub-Saharan dialects, and Tuareg, not to mention French.  Scholars call attention to transnational dialects or groups of languages linked not necessarily by a common origin, but rather by the mutual influence that language speakers have on each other--such as how Chinese has influenced the Balkan, Caucasian, and East Asian languages.  Cross-border languages are spoken on both sides of the same boundary and borrow elements from each other .

Languages, music and the visual arts ignore the borders drawn by warriors and diplomats. André Malraux sought transcendence in artistic expression.  Particularly in Les Voix du silence (1951), he highlighted unexpected relationships in time and space. Such influences are innumerable: the Gauls had the Celts for teachers.  The Romans were educated by their contacts with the Etruscans and Greeks, which justified the famous formula of Horace that the Romans conquered Greece but were conquered culturally by the Greeks: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit and artes intulit agresti Latio (“Defeated Greece defeated its fierce conqueror and introduced the arts into rural Lazio”). Artistic areas do not coincide with interstate borders, as shown by the diffusion of artistic styles of the Renaissance, classicism, baroque, and modern styles.  The arts of Islam embrace a vast region ranging from Spain to India and beyond; Moorish buildings were built in Europe in the 19th century, such as the synagogue of Besançon or the old Alhambra Hotel of Nice which is surmounted by two minarets.

Some utopian theories contest of the idea of borders.  These often call for the removal of boundaries separating states in order to establish a single earthly homeland to guarantee peace and fraternity. This was the romantic proposal that Lamartine emphatically formulated in 1841:

"And why do we hate and put between races

Those boundaries or waters that the eye of God abhors?

Do we see any sign of borders in the sky?

Does its vault have walls, milestones, markers?

Nations! What a pompous word for barbary!

Does love stop where your steps go no further?

Rip up these flags; another voice cries out to you:

Selfishness and hatred alone have a fatherland;

Brotherhood has none! » .

Another negation of boundaries is formulated by Catholic theologians. They remind us that God wanted the unity of the human race and that there exists, as Pope Francis says, "one human family" , which makes the concept of separate races absurd and imposes fraternity and solidarity among men. According to these theologians, boundaries are a human creation that thwarts the plan of God who gave the earth to his creatures. Such a design implies that the right of migration is natural, that man is fundamentally a migrant like Abraham, journeying on earth to a beyond where he will eventually meet God. John Paul II summarized these ideas in a pithy phrase: "In the Church, no one is a stranger" . At the end of his life, he even defined a "world citizenship" . Popes in particular tend to stress the importance of the right to asylum, which makes borders irrelevant when people's lives are threatened.

Rehabilitation of the border

At the same time as they tend to fade, borders maintain a certain vitality because decision-makers, sensitive to their usefulness, entrust them with important functions.

Borders have always played a role in health protection. Diseases overcome all borders, as illustrated by the epidemic of the Black Death in the fourteenth century or the Spanish flu at the end of the First World War. Interstate boundaries are no barrier to contagion, but they can limit it. This is why the authorities traditionally imposed quarantines in ports and on land. More recently, during epidemics, medical examinations have been carried out in airports and footbaths have been used.

The recent resurgence of terrorism has led officials to increase the number of checkpoints, to ban passengers from taking on board certain objects deemed dangerous in aircraft cabins, and to place police officers acting as ordinary passengers on certain lines deemed to be at risk. Fear of migrants has led to strict controls on foreigners at borders, creating detention zones and expelling those who do not meet stringent criteria. Human rights activists who help illegal immigrants are prosecuted by the courts. The fight against crime, particularly drug trafficking, is used to justify police measures in places of entry into the national territory; customs officers are given the right to carry out surprise checks far from the borders.

The border can have a positive function for foreigners. In some cases, carefully defined by law, democratic countries offer protection and physical survival to political refugees. In 1952, France created the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), a public office now attached to the Ministry of the Interior, which grants asylum to people persecuted for their ideas, their ethnic origin or religion, their sexual orientation, or who suffer from various threats such as forced marriage or female sexual mutilation.  Those persons are interviewed by officials and must provide proof of the dangers by which they claim to be threatened.

Borders can play a unifying role. Those who live near a border can be open to the neighboring country, and tend to know its culture, language and traditions.  Frequent interaction can create a familiarity between neighboring states, a bond, a form of solidarity . The case of Europe is enlightening.  The "fathers of Europe" such as Robert Schuman, Lorrain of Luxembourg, Konrad Adenauer, Rhénan of Cologne, and Alcide De Gasperi (who was from Trento) were all men from border regions.  They experienced the two world wars and saw the devastations that resulted.  Their fervent Catholicism led them to a certain form of universalism.  It can rightly be said that, for these men, border regions became the laboratories of European unity.

In a well-known essay, Eloge des frontières (“In praise of borders”), the philosopher Régis Debray, a comrade in arms of Che Guevara in the 1960s, explains that the border can have a positive function as a factor of civilization and peace. The author, opposing the utopia of a "global planetary village", of an open culture in which all intellectual and artistic productions are equal, considers that the setting of limits constitutes an advance and a guarantee. He recalls that the founder of Rome, Romulus, having traced a furrow marking the perimeter of the new city, severely punished his brother for violating the sacred furrow.  According to Debray, educating children means setting boundaries for them, and creating order means imposing limits on criminals, traffickers and financiers. The barbarian is he who ignores constraints. Debray thinks that the border limits excesses—that it is a kind of inoculation or vaccine against the “epidemic of walls," in the sense that "the wall forbids passage; the border regulates it. To say of a border that it is a colander is to give it its due: it is there to filter" .

In the end, we must emphasize the strength of the border. It marks state power and the will of the rulers. It is concretized by laws, imperative legal rules, a search for rational management. It translates its decisive weight by solemn acts, plebiscites, attentive and persistent controls. But the border is also fragile. It can be transgressed by smugglers.  Border activities are regularly disrupted by diplomatic tensions, wars, and silly regulations that have little to do with human or economic realities. The border can play a unifying role when neighboring countries realize that they are objectively united because of complementarity of activities, community of interests, and the existence of cross-border identities and solidarities.

The theme of "Frontiers and Border Regions" could be dealt with respecting the following axes: 

  1. History of the border and border regions
  • Antiquity
  • Middle Ages
  • Modern Era
  • Contemporary Period
  1. Definition and types of boundaries
  • Territorial boundaries
  • Maritime borders
  • Heavenly borders
  • Natural borders
  • Artificial borders
  • Invisible borders
  • "Material" (e.g. South Africa under apartheid) or "immaterial" internal border (e.g. China)
  • Materialized borders: police stations, customs line, fortifications, walls)
  1. Fixing the border
  • Conquest
  • Colonization
  • Treaties
  • Self-determination
  • Plebiscite ...
  1. Border control
  • Formalities of passage
  • Police, gendarmes and other military, customs
  • Outsourcing border control
  • Expulsion
  • Extradition
  1. Disputes and border disputes
  • Land claims
  • Borders and identity incompatibilities
  • Espionage and sabotage
  • Water management
  • Military incursions
  • War and violence
  • Questions of refugees and the right of asylum
  • Negotiations
  1. Economics of the border
  • Landlocked properties in neighboring countries
  • Legal exchanges and smuggling
  • Free trade zones
  • Frontiers and taxation
  • Borders and frontier pioneers
  • Border regions and pastoral activities (e.g. Africa)
  1. Moving beyond the border
  • Modern means of communication, satellites, internet, telecommunications, social networks, virtual museums
  • Borders and public health
  • International institutions and cooperation
  • Territorial groupings
  • Linguistic borders, isoglosses, transitional and cross-border languages ...
  • Artistic borders, plastic arts, music
  • Border regions and heritage (tangible and intangible)
  • Border identities
  • Theories of the global state and universal citizenship
  • Frontiers and theology
  • Borders and globalization
  • Frontiers and migratory movements
  • Front-line and free movement within sub-regional groups (e.g. ECOWAS) or supra-national "communities" (e.g. the European Union)
  • The position of the border as one of openness and dynamism, or as a factor of isolation and stagnation


  • July 10, 2018: Deadline for submitting proposals to the following email address:

  • tunisian.mediterranean.associ@gmail.com
  • Participants will receive before July 10, 2018 responses to their proposals and information about the conference registration fees.
  • Deadline for sending the Final Text: November 15, 2018
  • 10th International Symposium: November 28, 29, and 30, 2016 in Beja, TUNISIA

Terms of submission

  • Individual proposals: must be a new topic that has not already been published or presented at a scientific symposium.
  • Proposal: Detailed summary: at least one page (font: Times New Roman 12; page margins 2.5 cm, single-spaced), with a detailed and up-to-date C.V.
  • The proposals can be in Arabic, English, French, or Spanish.
  • For abstracts in French or Spanish, a detailed English translation is mandatory (one page at a minimum; font: Times New Roman 12, page margins 2.5 cm, single-spaced).
  • For summaries in Arabic, a detailed translation into English or French is mandatory (one page at a minimum: font: Times New Roman 12, page margins 2.5 cm, single-spaced).
  • The conference proceedings will be published after evaluation by the Scientific Committee.

Scientific committee

  • Ibrahim Muhammed Saadaoui (University of Tunisia / T.M.A. for HSES),
  • Abdul Hakim al-Kabi (University of  Basrah, Iraq),
  • Adel Ben Youssef (University of Sousse. Tunisia)
  • Adel Zyada (Cairo University, Egypt),
  • Anne-Claire Bonnevillle (I.N.L.C.O. Paris. France)
  • Antonio Garrido Almonacid (University of Jaén. Spain),
  • Darlene Miller (Wits School of Governance Johannesburg. South Africa),
  • Edinam Kola (University of Lomé. Togo),
  • Elizabeh Bishop (Texas State university. USA),
  • Florentine AGOH (University of Bouake, Ivory Coast),
  • Habib Belaid (University of Manouba. Tunisia),
  • Habib Jammoussi (University of Sfax. Tunisia)
  • Hassan Amili (University of Hassan II. Mohammedia. Morocco),
  • Idrissa BA (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar, Senegal),
  • Idrissa Soïba Traore (University of Bamako, Tchad),
  • Jamila Saïdi (University of Hassan II. Mohammedia. Morocco),
  • Jann Pasler (University of California, San Diego. USA),
  • John Chircop (University of Malta),
  • Jomaa Ben Zarwal (University of Batna. Algeria)
  • Khalifa Hammache (University of Constantine. Algeria)
  • Landitiana Soamarina Miakatra (IPS. University of Madagascar),
  • Laurence Marfaing (University of Hamburg. Germany)
  • Laurence Michalak (University of California, Berkeley. USA)
  • Lodugnon-Kalou H. Evelyne Liliane (Felix Houphouet Boigny University, Abidjan. Ivory Coast)
  • Mabrouk Chihi (University of Jendouba. Tunisia),
  • Marie-Christine Allart (University of Lille3, France),
  • Marina Bertoncin (University of Padova. Italy),
  • Mayéda Ningui Wénssowa (University of Lomé. Togo)
  • Mbida Onambele Max Zachée Saintclair (University of Buea. Cameroon),
  • Minoti Chakravarty-Kaul (New Delhi University. India)
  • Mohammed Arnaout (Al- al Bayit University, Jordan),
  • Mohammed Bazi (University of Marrakesh, Morocco),
  • Mohammed Bdiwi (University of Asyut, Egypt),
  • Mohammed Chadly (University of Algiers, Algeria)
  • Mohammed Ratoul (University of Hassiba ben Bouali, Chlef. Algeria)
  • Mustafa Ozturk (Fırat Üniversitesi. Elazığ. Türkiye)
  • Nawal Moutazakki (University of Hassan II. Casablanca. Morocco),
  • Nelly Hanna (American university in Cairo. Egypt)
  • Oumarou Gnebora (University of Douala. Cameroon),
  • Pierre-Éric Fageol (University of Reunion)
  • Rafael Valenci (University of Seville. Spain),
  • Ralph Schor (University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis. France),
  • Sahar ar-Rifai (Mustansiriya University, Baghdad. Iraq),
  • Salah Haridy (University of Damanhour. Egypt),
  • Talal Hmud al-Mikhlafi (University of Ataz. Yemen)
  • Tanoh Raphael Bekoin (University of Bouake, Ivory Coast).
  • Thierry Vanelslander (University of Antwerp. Begium),
  • Yves Guillermou (Toulouse University 3. France)


  • I.S.E.T., salle des réunions. - Route de Tunis
    Béja, Tunisia


  • Tuesday, July 10, 2018


  • frontière, région frontalière, contrebande, discrimination, migration, violence, résistance, relation internationale, patrimoine, front pionnier, développement durable, environnement


  • Ibrahim Muhammed Saadaoui
    courriel : saadaoui_brahim [at] yahoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Ibrahim Muhammed Saadaoui
    courriel : saadaoui_brahim [at] yahoo [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Frontiers and Border Regions », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, April 12, 2018, https://doi.org/10.58079/100t

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