When I first became interested in livestock herders in Africa, I was told they lived on marginal lands. Fifty years later the more common refrain is these herders are marginalized–marginalized in politics, by the economy, and now because of the climate emergency.

I hate that word, marginal.

Since the academic study of pastoralism appears to be stuck with the term’s use and abuse, may I suggest a different, more positive analogy:

The illuminators [of medieval manuscripts] enriched the margins of the page, conventionally an empty space, with figurative, vegetal or abstract elements. Sometimes the marginal images were merely decorative, at other times they functioned rather like visual footnotes or sidebars, as serious or comic commentaries on the text. . .

Jed Perl (2021). Authority and Freedom. Alfred A. Knopf: New York

In short, pastoralists continue to illuminate to our advantage what others persist texting as “the margins.”

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