Documenting the heritage of Fez and its development over twelve centuries, and the scholarly legacy of Clifford Geertz and his work in the town of Sefrou, Morocco.
M any Americans visualize North African cities, notably Casablanca, Tangier, and Algiers, through the lens of the Hollywood classics of yesteryear, with their depictions of the Arab and Muslim city as exotic and decadent, the perfect setting for intrigue and romance. Yet many Americans are increasingly gaining first-hand knowledge of North Africa as they travel the region and visit its cities and towns.
The 1200-year-old city of Fez has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. As the archetypal North African, Arab, and Muslim walled city, Fez serves as a case study for the comparative exploration of visual, architectural, and literary representations in research that is being carried out at the intersection of social history, architectural history, urban planning, engineering, anthropology, and literature.
The Moroccan town of Sefrou, situated to the south of Fez in the foothills of north-central Morocco where the Middle Atlas Mountains meet the western plains, was the site of pioneering research by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, whose book, Islam Observed (1968), influenced a generation of scholars; its impact still reverberates across the disciplines. Geertz developed his contributions to sociocultural theory and symbolic anthropology while considering Islam, ideas of the sacred, colonialism and economic development, the traditions of the suq (bazaar), and social and political structures.
What can Fez and Sefrou tell us about Morocco? Explore for yourself by viewing abstracts of papers presented by scholars from North Africa, Europe, and the U.S. at two international conferences held at UCLA in November 2008 and December 2007. Fez, Morocco, Crossroads of Knowledge and Power: Celebrating 1200 Years of Urban Life, considered the city in terms of new cross-fertilizations of ideas about urban space and social relations. In Islam Re-Observed: Clifford Geertz in Morocco, scholars explored religion, culture, and anthropology in Morocco, North Africa, and Europe. The collected papers from this conference are being published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of North African Studies.
View Paul Hyman's photographs of Sefrou and its people, exhibited at the Fowler Museum in conjunction with the Islam Re-Observed conference. Hyman made these compelling images during a four-month stay in the town in 1969. They preserve a fascinating record of anthropological research in a particular place at a certain point in time, and offer a telling contrast with present-day Sefrou. Hyman’s work features many images of the town’s lively suq, as well as the nearby village of Sidi Lahcen Lyusi.
Copyright © 2009 Center for Near Eastern Studies