Category Archives: International Trips

Been All Around This World: A Trip to Morocco

This post was contributed by Sean Swanick, the Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies at Duke.

This past summer I was fortunate to visit Turkey and Morocco. I was on the lookout for books, ephemera and related materials to enhance Duke University Library’s growing Middle East and Islamic Studies Collections. This post concerns my two weeks in Morocco. A second post in the coming weeks will detail my adventures in Turkey.

Egyptians make the claim Masr Umm al-duniyā (مصر أم الدنيا), Egypt is the Mother of the World. Moroccans have come to accept this but with a sense of humour add Masr Umm al-duniyā wa al-Maghrib abūhā (مصر أم الدنيا والمغرب أبوها), Egypt is the mother of the world and Morocco is the father.

While in Morocco I visited Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, and Tangier. I was able to meet with colleagues, visit some incredible museums, make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the famous world traveller Ibn Battuta and, of course peruse many, many bookstores.

Morocco’s book publishing industry is thriving with reportedly 6,000 books published in 2018. Books are published in Arabic followed by French, Amazigh and Spanish. For further reading about the Morocco’s book culture, Anouk Cohen published Fabriquer le livre au Maroc that explores many of these aspects. Duke’s collection though young contains approximately 3,000 titles from Morocco mostly in Arabic and French though we are working to acquire some works in Amazigh, especially language manuals. Amazigh is the language spoken by the Berber population of Morocco, which is approximately 10-12 million or 40% of Morocco’s total population. As the Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies, I strive to collect the documented heritage of all peoples who live within these boundaries.

My first stop was Casablanca, the capital. A visit to the Hassan II Mosque (cf. Elleh, Nnamdi. 2003. Architecture and power in Africa. Westport, CT: Praeger), the largest in Africa, is compulsory. Photos cannot translate its magnitude, though I have attached one that I took. It is set on the seaside with the calm sounds of the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the shore. The mosque fits some 100,000 worshipers, 25,000 of whom will be inside the mosque while the rest will be in the large adjacent courtyard. This is the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims are permitted to enter.

A large concentration of Casablanca’s bookshops is located in the Habous neighbourhood. Habous has an interesting history as Henri Prost, the famed French architect, redesigned it during the French Protectorate (1912-1956). Hosting suqs (Arabic for market or commercial place within an inhabited area) and cafes, Habous is also home to some 20 bookstores including the important Arab Cultural Center.

Casablanca also has the only Jewish museum in Arab majority countries. A terrific museum hosting a wide variety of cultural artifacts dedicated to preserving the history of Moroccan Jews. There remain approximately 2,000 Jews living in Morocco.

The next stop was Fes, founded at least in the 9th century during Idrisid Rule (788-974). Fes remains the intellectual capital of Morocco, with many schools, writers, and scholars calling it home. While all cities will contain a suq, Fes’s suq is a UNESCO heritage site. It is an amazing tour de force and nothing short of a labyrinth. Small alleys and corridors with high walls help the beginner become confused and even lost. Navigating the suq is best done by trial and error. After a few confusing moments, one learns the routes without the help of the local ‘guides.’ The suq is designed in such a way as to minimize direct sunlight – Fes in summer averages in the 40s Celsius (110s Fahrenheit).  However, the reward of adventuring is an incredible array of crafts, arts, carpets, leather works, cafes, restaurants and historic sites like the University of al-Qarawiyyin (جامعة القرويين), considered the oldest center of learning. The traditional arts of mosaic tilework and leather production in the tanneries are ubiquitous.

While in Fes, I was also fortunate to meet up with fellow Blue Devils Profs. Mona Hassan and Mustafa Tuna and their family for a late afternoon lunch in the Rcif neighborhood.

From Fes I travelled by train to Tangier, the famous port-city that has been a point of cultural diffusion and trade since Phoenician times.  Tangier is also home to the world traveler Ibn Batutah. Batutah traveled around not just Muslim majority countries but also to China and beyond. Unfortunately, his tomb in Tangier pales in comparison to his contribution to literature and knowledge. There are four tremendous bookstores in Tangier: Librairie des Colonnes, Les Insolites, ARTingis, and Librairie Papeterie Marocaine (المكتبة المغربية). Librairie des Colonnes was founded in 1949 and became the literary culture center with such characters as Jane and Paul Bowles, Samuel Becket, Jean Genet, Juan Goytisolo, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote as well as others who frequented, if not entrenched themselves in this beautiful landmark building. Les Insolites and ARTingis are relatively new stores with a nice variety of new, old, and popular works in French, Arabic, Amazigh, and English. Librairie Papeterie Marocaine is the largest of the stores containing almost exclusively Arabic publications from Morocco.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the historic and important Cinema Rif, perhaps the most important movie theater in Morocco. Its history is documented in this recent publication: Album cinématheque de Tanger by Azoury, Philippe, Yto Barrada et al., soon to be at your favorite research library.

My last stop was Rabat, which was hosting a small book festival with some 15 publishers and vendors displaying their materials in tents on Avenue Mohammed V and Rue Gaza au centre ville. There are three very important bookstores in Rabat: Dar al-Amane, Kalilah wa Dimna, and Librairie Livre Services. Dar al-Amane offers a terrific array of Arabic books on religion, philosophy, traditions of Islam, law, etc. while the other two shops offer books in Arabic and French on a wide variety of topics including literature, poetry, popular culture, photography, etc. Rabat also contains a variety of historic sites and a lovely suq, which is decorated in street art like this incredible mural.

There is much more I could say about this trip; Morocco offers a unique experience with its diverse population, climate, foods, and, of course, books. I would like to thank the Duke University Libraries for this opportunity. A special thanks to our esteemed Arabic cataloger, Fouzia el-Gargouri.

Been All Around This World: A Trip to Japan

This post was contributed by Kristina Troost, the Japanese Studies Librarian at Duke.

In my job as Japanese Studies librarian, I often visit Japan. I do this largely to build ties to other librarians or vendors. There are many things that can be accomplished one-on-one that cannot be done remotely. These ties also stand me in good stead when I need to request favors. I think this is true everywhere, but personal connections matter a lot in East Asia. I also visit museums, temples and universities to deepen my knowledge of areas in which I support faculty and students.  Personal conversations allow me to understand what is going on in Japan in ways not possible to achieve in the US. 

My first day in Tokyo, I visited Waseda University library since my main contacts have retired, and we have relied on them in the past for special favors.  Afterwards, I visited the Gender and Sexuality Center, the first such center set up to provide support and information to LGBT students and their allies at a Japanese university.  It has several fully trained professional staff as well as a cadre of student volunteers. 

The next day, I visited the National Women’s Education Center (NWEC). Established in 1977, it is dedicated to promoting gender equality. It has an extensive library of books and ephemera on women worldwide, as well as lodging for researchers if they wish to stay to use the material.  While I have known about it for some time, since Women’s Studies has been a focus of our collection and the faculty I support, I had no idea of its size or the variety of its activities. Known for the databases they have created of their holdings and the digital versions of their ephemera, they also create exhibitions using those materials. The exhibit I saw was on Beate Sirota Gordon, who compiled the human rights clauses, particularly those concerning women, for the Japanese postwar constitution. I was struck by Article 23 and its emphasis on the equality of the sexes.

The study of modern Japanese art is a significant focus of the East Asian Studies program that I have supported for many years.  This trip provided me an opportunity to visit several museums devoted to it. In Tokyo, I went to The Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery and 21-21 Design Sight.  The Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery had a special exhibit, “Tom Sachs Tea Ceremony” as well as selections from their permanent collection given by Mr. Terada. The Terada collection contains some 3,700 artworks with a focus on postwar Japanese art and is relatively accessible.  The Tom Sachs tea ceremony, however, took me some time. He has been reinterpreting ‘chanoyu’ — traditional Japanese tea ceremony — since 2012 through contemporary elements, materials, tools, and techniques. After seeing the film that was part of the exhibit, it made more sense. 21_21 Design Sight has a wonderful exhibit called Sense of Humor.  One of the posters I liked best could not be photographed, but many of the exhibits had me laughing out loud. 

My final exploration of contemporary Japanese art was on the island of Naoshima in the Inland Sea.  In the face of declining population in rural areas of Japan and in the Inland Sea in particular, one industrialist purchased part of Naoshima and has established a number of art museums which hold art by both Japanese and Western artists.  These museums have been designed by Tadao Ando to maximize the impact of the art. 

For example, one museum has several of Monet’s paintings of water lilies. The number of people allowed in the room at one time is limited, and you remove your shoes before entering.  The floor is made from tiny white tiles. There are paintings of water lilies on all four sides. As one of only two or three people in the room, I could appreciate them in a new way. In addition, there are a number of what I would call “installations”.  Together they are known as the Art House project. Artists have taken empty houses and turned the spaces themselves into works of art, each of which are in separate locations and all of which are effective.  One, Minamidera, entails walking into a darkened temple, holding onto a wall and then sitting very still. Eventually, as your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, you can see something across the room. I recommend, however, having younger eyes than mine. In another installation, the artist added a glass staircase to a shrine that was being renovated; it links the main building to an underground stone chamber, uniting the worlds above and below.

Each time I visit Japan, I try to explore new areas and go to museums and libraries I have not visited before.  Both NWEC and Naoshima have been on my list of places to visit for some time and both exceeded my expectations.  Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery and 21-21 Design Sight were recommended this summer by a faculty member I work with. While my primary goal is to deepen my knowledge and extend my connections in ways that I know will support the students and faculty I work with, I usually find that I use the knowledge I gain in unanticipated ways.