Cataloguing Absence: Moroccan Jewish Archival Landscapes

By Jessie Stoolman
Submitted to Session P6383 (The Politics of Culture in Postcolonial Morocco and its Diasporas, 2021 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
Over the last century, the Moroccan archival landscape has shifted dramatically, witnessing growth of both nationally and privately held collections. While the Archives du Maroc has pushed to integrate Jewish histories within a nationalist framework, pursuing agreements with international organizations to share their digitized collections and hosting private archives, like that of Edmond Amran El Maleh, institutions like the Musée du Judaïsme Marocain focus on almost exclusively documenting Jewish religious and cultural traditions. Furthermore, informal collections can be found in synagogues, Jewish senior homes, and private residences across Morocco. Internationally based archives, like the Ben-Zvi Institute, also compete to document Moroccan Jewish lives. Since little has been written about the politics that inform the various curatorial practices of this fragmented archival landscape, my paper will focus on unpacking the objectives of individual archives in Morocco (such as, the Musée du Judaïsme Marocain and Bayt al-Dhākira) as well as the factors that have influenced the behavior of potential donors. Surveys of collections at these archives and interviews with archivists reveal the important role that tourism (particularly, Jewish tourism) plays in curatorial decisions, as these spaces overwhelmingly invest their resources in exhibits that display elite material culture, leaving most their documentary collections uncatalogued. Likewise, interviews with potential Moroccan Jewish donors, both diasporic and resident in Morocco, demonstrate clear preference for explicitly Jewish archives over, for example, the Archives du Maroc. I conclude by arguing that this fragmentation of the Moroccan Jewish archival landscape discourages historical inquiry outside traditional parameters that tend to focus either on Muslim-Jewish relations or intracommunal dynamics. Such a shift in orientation will help elucidate entanglements between minoritized groups, like Jewish and Black communities in the region - a subject that has occupied the margins of scholarship, particularly recent research on the history of racialized enslavement.