On Leaving

June 26, 2007 at 5:01 pm 2 comments

Our travel between Chapel Hill and Timbuktu will follow an unlikely path, hardly one a geographer or planner would have plotted. Our flight is scheduled to depart shortly before 5 this afternoon. All four of us plan to spend a few weeks in Morocco before William and I go on to Syria for the fall semester. Our return to Chapel Hill will come by way of Mali and the Festival in the Desert.

I have promised friends and colleagues to blog about the journey. I have never kept a public weblog before, and the process of writing one seems to be a peculiar challenge. I’m an historian, and that usually means that everything I publish is supposed to be well-documented and sourced, well-argued and coherently written. And historians like to wait until we can actually get a longer perspective on events, ideas and issues before we actually write anything. This blog will force me to do a different kind of writing.

It seems to be a helpful project. Even thinking about the first posting has made me reflect (with some amusement) on the journey I’m about to begin. I often use travel accounts in my courses, asking students to consider not only what European travelers saw in the Middle East, but also what they expected to see, and how those expectations colored what they noticed. I ask them to think about the power relationships between the travelers and the people the met on the road. It seems impossible, then, not to see my own trip within the context of the past two centuries of growing European and American control over the Middle East. I wonder both how current US hegemony in the region will influence the way I view our travels, and the extent to which it will affect our relationships abroad.

At the same time, I’m excited to be beginning the journey. Like those earlier travelers, I have heard a lot about the places I hope to see. Morocco figures large in my courses on the Modern Middle East and on Islamic civilization. Some of the most important dynasties that ruled Spain came from Morocco; the great historian and sociologist Ibn Khaldun came from the land now Morocco; Morocco is the only country in the Middle East/North Africa region that never came under the control of the Ottoman empire; and the Moroccan struggle for independence against France is legendary.

But all that reading and writing and lecturing hasn’t introduced me to the varieties of people, the food, the music, the ideas and experiences of today’s Moroccans. I’m full of questions, thrilled with the journey ahead, eager to see and learn and hear everything, and, I admit, a bit anxious about the whole thing.

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Casablanca

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Fred Paxton  |  June 27, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Bon voyage to all four of you, Sarah. Wondered just yesterday whether or not your trip had begun (reading the Sunday Times travel section article on Syria). I’ll look forward to your blogs. Fred

    Reply
  • […] Timbuktu, which I suppose is yet another echo of those nineteenth-century travelers I mentioned at the beginning of our journey. We were gone for six months, July in Morocco with Katie and Ian, then five months in Aleppo, then […]

    Reply

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