The Legal, Cultural, and Spatial Legacies of Colonialism in Morocco

What is the most effective solution to engaging with historical figures whose actions by today’s standards have moved them from cultural heroes to contested or even reprehensible figures? Should we strive towards a resetting of our physical manifestation of memory of these figures, creating a possibility to leave our racist, colonialist, and violent pasts in the past? In an essay for New Lines Magazine, DUSP doctoral candidate Asmaa Elgamal wrestles with these questions in relation to the intersection of her identities, her dissertation research on the spatial memory of the French conquest of Morocco, and her lived experience conducting research in archives created and narrated by colonizers.

“I spent hours on end combing through dusty boxes exploding with government memos, official correspondence, research documents and intelligence reports. Every day felt like I was listening to a one-sided conversation, one that dated back at least 100 years. The speakers — explorers, officers, administrators — were long dead, but the topics were painfully familiar,” writes Elgamal. “As I scoured the grime-filled documents, I heard the racist and disdainful undertones piercing through the faded texts just as clearly as I read the bold signatures of their mustachioed authors. I felt both empowered and defeated by these one-sided conversations — empowered by the knowledge I was amassing to write my own narrative and defeated by my inability to talk back to these dead men with their overconfident ink strokes.”

Elgamal's work straddles the fields of development, planning, and security studies, with a focus on the politics of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. Her dissertation project explores the interactions between colonial history, security politics and knowledge production within land planning agencies in colonial Morocco, as well as their impact on the institutional infrastructure and contemporary practices of the post-independence state. 

Read her full essay