Counting Nomads: British Census Attempts and Tent Counts of the Negev Bedouin 1917 to 1948

Seth J. Frantzman, Noam Levin, Ruth Kark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The census of nomadic populations poses a challenge for governing authorities. In 1945, the British Mandatory government of Palestine developed a novel method to enumerate the nomadic Bedouin population of the Negev. By using aerial reconnaissance photography to augment conventional methods, they counted the tents of the tribesmen and marked them on a small scale map. This represented the culmination of years of British efforts to estimate the nomadic population of Palestine's largest administrative area, the Beersheba subdistrict of the Negev Desert, between 1917 and 1948. The aims of this paper were to chronicle, examine, and evaluate the British Mandatory estimates and censuses of the Bedouin population of the Negev undertaken in 1922, 1931, and 1946, and to compare them with their aerial survey of Bedouin tents in 1945. This study brings together a body of primary source material to examine a topic that has not been adequately addressed by researchers, and briefly touches on British strategic interests to invest in this activity. We assess the importance and accuracy of this mapping as well as its implications for the study of the Bedouin population of the Negev.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)552-568
Number of pages17
JournalPopulation, Space and Place
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Aerial photography
  • Bedouin
  • Census
  • Colonialism
  • Nomads
  • Palestine

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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