Morocco & American Studies

TALIM MASA group

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.

TALIM MASA roundtableSo 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.

TALIM MASA flagsMoroccans 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

Building MASA, the “Moroccan American Studies Association”

TALIM ASA Nina - Version 2A Transnational Network of Scholars

 

Note: The following guest post is by Dr. Nina Morgan, Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University and Reprise editor at the Journal of Transnational American Studies, affiliated with the American Studies Association (ASA), of which Nina is also Chair of the Women's Committee.

The initiative of which she writes – though it happened at TALIM – was born out of the December 2012 Marrakesh conference on American Studies, post-Arab Spring, in the MENA region.  The conference was organized by the Moroccan American Studies Lab of Hassan II University in Casablanca.

 

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How can those of us teaching and researching, lecturing and writing on “American studies” in Morocco share our work? Where can we go to seek out one another’s advice on curriculum development or job opportunities for graduate students? How can news of our publications be shared with other Americanists and comparativists world-wide?  An association of individuals—whether scholars associated with a university or independent researchers, or writers, artists or students—is being formed under the title of the “Moroccan American Studies Association,” and it is to be housed at TALIM.

TALIM ASA Karim Noureddine 2This exciting development in Moroccan American Studies is in its early stages.  On July 2, 2013, a small group met at the Legation—Dr. Karim Bejjit (Hassan II University, Casablanca), Dr. Nourdin Bejjit (Agdal V University, Rabat), TALIM Director Mr. Gerald Loftus, and Dr. Nina Morgan (Kennesaw State University, Georgia) — to begin discussing the how such an organization might be built and when MASA might be ready to apply for affiliation with the American Studies Association in Washington, D.C.   The group was mentored by Dr. Boris Vejdovsky, Chair of the ASA’s International Committee, who has overseen the development of many national organizations like MASA.

Writing a mission statement, establishing articles or rules of association, and holding elections for officers of MASA are only a few of the tasks yet to be completed.  Planning future events, such as a yearly conference hosted by TALIM, is also on the table for discussion.  

While our first meeting was small, there is a growing group of scholars long-committed to work in the field of Moroccan-American studies who are involved in these efforts. Especially significant are the “movers and shakers” of Moroccan American studies at Hassan II University, Ben Msik, Casablanca, who teach both graduate and undergraduate courses in the subject and who publish regularly in their journal, Moroccan American Studies: Dr. Amine El Moumine, Dr. Mohamed Benzidan, Dr. Karim Bejjit, Dr. Abdelmajid Bouziane, Dr. Taoufik Jafaari, Dr. Mohamed Kandoussi, Dr. Samira Rguibi, Dr. Saida Bennani as well as important figures in Moroccan writing such as Dr. Larbi Touaf (Mohamed I University, Oujda).

If you have any interest in shaping the future of Moroccan American studies, please consider joining us!

Nina Morgan

American Studies in Arab Universities

TALIM American Studies Arab World posterA.S.  American Studies, Arab Spring

The Department of English and the Moroccan American Studies Lab of Casablanca's Hassan II University, with perfect timing designed to coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the Arab Spring two years ago in Tunisia, organized what may be the first region-wide conference on American Studies as a discipline in Arab universities in the wake of this region-reshaping Spring.

With the snow-covered Atlas Mountains as a dramatic backdrop, Marrakesh was host to a gathering of experts from across the region, but also from the United States, Canada, and Europe, to gauge the state of American Studies at this crucial juncture.  At the same time, Marrakesh was hosting quite another sort of crowd at the annual Marrakesh Film Festival.

Ironic, perhaps, since an important theme in our academic conference is one of image and perception, especially in the world of TV and cinema, of both Arab and American worlds.  Dr. Karim Bejjit, one of the conference organizers, has done considerable research on the Christian captive narratives of the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as on the Barbary Wars of the early days of the American republic.  Comparing these with the kind of "with us or against us" rhetoric born of September 11, 2001, Bejjit says that the 300 year old narratives often gave a more nuanced picture of the Moorish captors than images on American TV.

The historiography of American Studies is fascinating, whose rise Dr. Alexander Lubin of AUB's Center for American Studies and Research sees stemming from the notion of American exceptionalism.  Later, "exceptions to exceptionalism" (racism, treatment of Native Americans, etc.) became a focus of scholars.

American Studies have long since evolved from a celebration of America to the point where in some corners its practitioners might be termed professors of "anti-American Studies."  Dr. Brian Edwards of Northwestern University, author of "Globalizing American Studies," tells of how in Iran some see American Studies as simply a way to better understand the enemy, the "Great Satan."

In many Arab universities, American Studies were born in departments of English.  While departments of English may still be a focal point, American Studies are a subject of interdisciplinary interest.  Take the gathering in Marrakesh, where demographers, security analysts, and linguists dissected the topic.

Are American Studies simply public relations?  If so, the PR message may have been misunderstood by its intended audience.  The Arab Spring used the products of American culture – social networking, crowd sourcing, etc. – but the end result was not necessarily "pro-American."

Is America in decline, and if so, why study it?  If decline there is, better to understand the society that is still capable of influencing the world in economic, military, cultural and innumerable other ways.

Whatever is happening in American Studies within the United States – and indications are that the field is in decline, in part due to the funding crisis in higher education – it was alive and well at this conference.  The greater MENA – Middle East North Africa – region counts at least 9 American Studies programs, perhaps 4 of which have PhD programs.

This was a perfect opportunity to talk up the virtues of TALIM as a venue for the study of American diplomatic engagement with the Arab, Muslim, and Mediterranean worlds, and we were pleased that a number of the participants already knew of the Legation and its importance in this story.  We look forward to strengthening ties with the American Studies Association and making TALIM – in addition to a research center for study of the Maghreb – a center for Arabs studying America.

Gerald Loftus