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The Maghreb Archiving Project

Session VIII-03, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 11:00 am

RoundTable Description
Archives are crucial for scholarship, but their existence cannot be taken for granted, particularly in the Maghreb. Two major obstacles confront those who study the postcolonial Maghreb. First, the inaccessibility of existing postcolonial institutional archives — whether in Morocco, Tunisia, or Algeria, the governments keep the doors to the postcolonial (and sometimes colonial) archive tightly sealed. Two, the repressive political context throughout the Maghreb and the dissemination of a mythical narrative of national independence has pushed historians to make up for the lack of institutional archives by creating an-alt postcolonial Maghreb archive, consisting of oral interviews, literary sources, social media feeds, and other sources of information outside of national institutions. The goal of this roundtable is to start a conversation amongst scholars of the Maghreb about how to remedy the lack of postcolonial archives. One of the ideas that the organizers of this roundtable propose is for scholars to compile the archival materials they have collected through fieldwork into one free and accessible online archive and database to disseminate and share archival sources with a larger group of scholars. It is true that scholars have been sharing sources with each other informally but forming a universally accessible archival database will democratize access. The open-access model would enable a diversity scholars and non-scholars to continue adding primary sources as they further their research. As a guide and reference, we could use other archives of this type (such as the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project or the PANAFEST archive). We are in the early stages of establishing this Maghreb Archiving Project (M.A.P.), which would be a trilingual website published in English, French, and Arabic, and would help transform archival and research practices on the Maghreb. This roundtable features contributions that will address practical ways to implement the creation of this complex digital enterprise. In addition to its scholarly dimension, the roundtable aspires to build a diverse community of scholars interested in participating in such a project. After the roundtable we plan to apply for funding to back this project and to publish the proceedings of the roundtable to build further support for the project. Ultimately, M.A.P. would foster open access to primary sources of the postcolonial Maghreb to all those interested, be they teachers, students, independently of where they are in the world. A digitized Maghreb archives has wider ramifications for both historical research and scholarly engagement with the region.
  • I will be guiding the conversation and discussing the possibility and ramifications of creating a Digital Archive of the Postcolonial Maghreb. I will start with a brief description of my experience searching for national postcolonial archives in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and my conversations with the archivists there. I will then talk about how I made up for the lack of access to national archives, and the conversations I had with various important Maghrebi actors of the postcolonial period. The goal of this roundtable is to start a conversation about what scholars can do with the archives they have gathered during their fieldwork and about how to share these archives in an equitable and academically rigorous way. My participation will be short, as I hope to get the audience actively engaged in the conversation and the future of the project.
  • Entitled "Other-archiving the Maghreb," my contribution to this round-table will develop the concept of other-archives and show the variety of ways in which thinking beyond our classical understanding of archives can be generative for both historiographical research and the humanistic traditions focused on the Maghreb. Euro-American archival theory starts from the premise that archives exist, attributing their silences their incompleteness. However, the pressing question this contribution underlines is how does one "create" and "build" an archive in places where there is no archives in the traditional sense? Taking to Foucault, Derrida, Stoler, and Hamilton, among others, to task, this contribution will theorize another dimension of "archivistic practice in contexts where archives are created and used differently in order to reveal how other-archives exist and work in real life.
  • This paper builds on recent calls to reframe intellectual history as inherently linked to political struggle (Khuri-Makdisi, 2014; Omar, 2017) in order to reflect on the project of translating and digitizing sources related to intellectual history in the Maghreb. What are some of the ways that intellectual networks can be reconstituted through digital methods that map conceptual frameworks and intellectual networks? In this sense, the China Biographical Database Project (CBDB) at Harvard is a useful model in providing not only biographical information, but also showing the spatial distribution and important nodes of exchange. Mapping the Republic of Letters (Stanford) provides another model for this work. Yet one methodological (and intellectual) question stands out when applying these techniques to the Maghreb: the inherently multilingual worlds in which these scholars worked and were trained. How could metadata or “traffic analysis” be used to chart these linguistic movements as well as the forms of political participation in which these intellectuals engaged? This paper tries to think about some ways that the creation of new forms of postcolonial archives can intersect with intellectual history, and provide new tools for mapping linguistic difference and translation in the Maghreb and beyond.
  • While Humanities scholars have perfected discussion of “the archive” as metaphor, the intended product of the Maghreb Archiving Project is an actual repository of physical materials. As it seeks to gather and make available on a digital platform, the primary source documents used by scholars of the Maghreb, it will have to come to terms with some technosocial aspects of digital work that the field of Libraries and Information Science (LIS) has been working on for decades. In this panel I will discuss the creation of the MAP from the vantage point of the field of Archival Studies (which is a part of LIS), highlighting some of the issues that the project may encounter. For example, how will the project deal with questions of ownership of the archival materials? What if some materials were given in confidence by research informants or contain private information? What metadata standard will be used to describe the materials? Which bodies of knowledge will form the basis for such description/representation/cataloging; that of traditional local knowledge or academic discipline-based ways of knowing? What will be the ramifications of MAP positioning its repository, as a trustworthy and yet alternative source of archival material on the Maghreb, in to the rich field of government and private libraries and archives in the region? And finally, how is it, in some way, mirroring the work of Moroccan intellectuals in the immediate post-colonial moment (1950s and 60s) who sought out indigenous archival material in opposition to the French colonial archive?
  • Scholars of the Atlantic slave trade and its afterlives have put forth various methodologies for navigating what Lisa Lowe calls the “aporia in the archive” and what Saidiya Hartman characterizes as the “scandal and excess” that mar the archive. Spanning from “critical fabulation” to a triangulation of sources from multiple archives, there are many strategies and methodologies that we, as scholars of the Maghreb, could glean from scholars of the Atlantic slave trade. My contribution to this roundtable will draw from my experiences in applying the methods of scholars of the Atlantic slave trade in my own research on early modern histories of slavery in the Maghreb. My paper will address the following questions: how can a digital archive of the Maghreb avoid the reproduction of the “aporia” in official archives? What are the challenges we should consider when it comes to digitizing sources of the early modern Maghreb, most of which are under the ownership of non-Maghreb state archives? What are the transregional collaborative possibilities for such a project? Ultimately, this paper posits a digital archive of the Maghreb that is global, intersecting, and generative. As Michel-Rolph Trouillot argues, “In history, power begins at the source.” Often seen as ancillary to the Middle East, Africa, and the Mediterranean, the formulation of a digital archive of the Maghreb serves as a unique opportunity to redefine the very notion of the Maghreb itself.
  • It is no secret that knowledge production was key to the French colonisation of the Maghreb. In both Mauritania and Morocco, the ethnographic documentation of social structures and belief systems actively produced the power asymmetry upon which the colonial enterprise is founded (Burke, 2014; Ould Cheikh, 2004). It did so by forging new social, racial, and religious categories of description, which served as templates for subjects of colonial governance. Being the repository of these social categories, the colonial archive was crucial to this endeavour. How, in this light, might ethnography and archiving today offset this colonial legacy? This contribution attempts to address this question firstly by briefly examining the uses to which social sciences in general – and ethnography in particular – were put during the colonial era in Mauritania and Morocco, highlighting the connections between the archival imperative, the ethnographic method, and the dictates of colonialism. It then moves on to consider how the results of ethnographies conducted today can be preserved and made accessible in a fashion that redresses the objectifications and asymmetries that define the colonial ethnographic archive. By bringing together some ethical and political questions with which archivists and ethnographers typically grapple, it aims to open, rather than resolve, debate around this question.