It all started in February 2011, when three wise men from the east (eastern Algeria, as it happens) visited Tangier, seeking to learn more about TALIM, AIMS, and how their focus on American Studies might benefit from a relationship with the Legation. We invited several Moroccan scholars and visiting Fulbrighters to meet their Algerian counterparts from the University of Guelma, and had a nice brainstorming session, reported in TALIMblog.
For me, the visit was the lightbulb-in-brain moment: eureka… Maghrebi scholars studying America, at the very place where the young United States of America established its first diplomatic property, in the country whose monarch was the first foreign head of state to recognize American independence.
It was the ideal mirror image of what TALIM was already doing – as the AIMS (American Institute for Maghrib Studies) research center in Morocco – fostering American scholarship of the Maghreb. And using the Legation's USP – our "unique selling propostion" or competitive advantage – to best advantage. More than two centuries' worth of history, increasingly cross-fertilized between our research library and our museum, enriched by blog posts and press articles, on relations between Morocco and the United States. And diplomatic and other archives for scholars to explore.
So last weekend's workshop, starting with a musical hommage to an American – Paul Bowles – who did much to help educate his fellow citizens on Morocco and especially Tangier, was the culmination of a four-year effort on our part to show that TALIM could also be a home to Maghrebi scholars of America, especially of Moroccan-American relations and America's engagement with the Muslim, Arab, and African worlds, symbolized by this institution.
And of course we know that this realization didn't start here. "American Studies in North African Universities," the proceedings of the 2nd conference on American Studies in the Maghreb, is dated September 1992, and "The Atlantic Connection: 200 Years of Moroccan-American Relations," published in conjunction with the 1986 bicentennial of the historic bilateral treaty, show that serious scholars have long been preoccupied with the subject.
Closer to the present, the excellent December 2012 Marrakesh conference on American Studies in Arab Universities, post-Arab Spring (organized by Hassan II University, Ben Msik, Casablanca), was a chance to gather scholars in the field from Morocco, the greater MENA region, and from Europe and North America. Last weekend, our friends from Ben Msik, joined by fellow Moroccans from universities in Meknes, Rabat, and Tangier, as well as Dartmouth College (TALIM President Dale Eickelman) and Kennesaw State (ASA International Committee member Nina Morgan) in the US, as well as Boris Vejdovsky of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, convened in Tangier. The workshop heard from representatives of the American Studies Association, who detailed what eventual affiliation with the ASA might offer a Moroccan association.
Moroccans who would form the nucleus of an association – perhaps to be called M.A.S.A. or Moroccan American Studies Association – debated the issues related to possible ASA affiliation, but in the end came to the conclusion that organizing a national association took precedence.
The consensus was that a follow-on gathering would take place in early May, to finalize the shape of a Moroccan association, with nationwide membership and inclusion of the numerous faculty and graduate students of American Studies in Morocco.
Conclusion: our intimate gathering of scholars and interested partners – TALIM received vital help to host this workshop from the US Embassy Rabat Public Affairs Section, as well as from the American Language Center of Tangier – is a promising start to what we hope will be finalized in early May. How nice it would be to have a Moroccan representative from the new association attend the annual ASA conference in Los Angeles next November…
Gerald Loftus, text and photos