Friday, May 7, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to the 17th Annual Maghrebi Studies Symposium

What do you get when you assemble 22 nerdy academic types, plus Moroccan academic types, plus the troops at MACECE for a 3-day-long discussion of research and culture?

Answer: The 17th Annual Maghrebi Studies Symposium.

AKA: Non-Stop-Academic-Hip Hop.

Rabat’s Hotel Tour Hassan was all abuzz as 22 Fulbright Students and Scholars descended upon it for the Symposium. Okay, maybe “abuzz” isn’t the right word, but we were surely the most exciting guests that the hotel had seen in a while.

The conference started with opening remarks from our Fulbright directors, as well as the American Ambassador, Samuel Kaplan. Those of you who have been following my pancakes saga will be happy to discover that, during the Q&A session with the Ambassador and his wife, Sylvia, I raised my hand and reiterated my invitation for pancakes at my apartment. They both laughed and diplomatically declined, sighting the hassle of getting all their security detail (8 bodyguards) out on a weekend when they could be home with their families. Fair enough. However, I got to chat with Sylvia afterwards and discovered that she and I are interested in many of the same things, namely, “the cultural dimensions of food preparation”. She even ran home to the Residence and came back to give me a book (In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah). It is an interesting narrative of one British man’s journey living in Morocco, collecting stories and searching for his own personal story. And as Rod astutely pointed out, “now that you have the book, you’ll have to go to the residence to return it. You’re instant friends!”

Over the course of 2.5 days, each Fulbrighter presented their research-to-date in a variety of styles. Some (like myself) had PowerPoints explaining the different facets of research. Some had notes on a paper and left their presentations open to discussion. Some even invited artists and music performers to help us “visualize” the work.

After presentations, the floor was open to questions from our guest discussants and the audience. This is when we really had to be on the ball. I was struck by how different the Moroccan academic style was from the American. It seemed as if our guest discussants emphasized critiques on our brief abstracts and bibliographies, whereas the Americans had more questions about the facets of our methodology. Granted, the discussants were prepared for the conference only via the papers we had submitted weeks before.

When it was my turn, I was surprisingly calm, and even had fun presenting on a topic that I adore. I love public speaking, and interacting with the audience. Dr. Maati Monjib, my guest discussant, didn’t even ask me the tough questions I was prepared for. Instead, he added some background to the information I had given, and was about to talk about some controversial issues when out time ran out.

I think Eric Saline summed up our experiences most appropriately “What one plans to do on a Fulbright Fellowship oftentimes varies quite dramatically from what actually happens once the grant has actually begun.” Almost all of us have seen setbacks and lack of access to resources and shifts in interest. But such is the nature of research. After all, my New Year’s Resolutions this year are twofold:

1. Learn.

2. Roll with it.

It was so fun to be able to hang out will the FBers all together, as we are spread all around the country. I think they are such an astounding group of nerds (and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible).

America’s finest, y’all!

A Few of the Topics Discussed at the Symposium:

  • Moroccan Contrasts: Paper Art and Printmaking
  • A Comparative Exploration of Foundational Idealogies about Citizenship in the Context of Reform
  • Jewish Morocco: North to South, Past to Present
  • Tracing the New Reconquista: Religious Rhetoric in Morocco during the Spanish Civil War
  • Transforming Tradition: The Labor Power of Moroccan Berber Women
  • Islamist Participation in Political Allicance-Building at the Sub-National Level in Morocco (this took me a long time to figure out...)
  • Closed Eyes & Open Pockets: An Evaluation of Responses to Morocco's Unofficial Migration Policy
  • Networking the Jil Jdid: Translocal Entrepreneurship Among Moroccan Hip Hop Artists

1 comment:

Bridget E. said...

You are my favorite Fullbright nerd :) I love you with my whole heart and miss you like Kurt Vonnegut is missing from my book collection.