Written by Graham H. Cornwell
Tucked between the Faculté des Lettres and the annex of the Bibliothèque Nationale just outside the Bab Rouah gate in Rabat, the Archives du Maroc is Morocco’s newest public archive and, as such, offers scholars the opportunity to delve into previously overlooked material. The Archives hold those records of the French Protectorate (1912-1956) that remained in Morocco (or those that were not transferred to France) following independence, as well as a smattering of holdings from the pre- and post-Protectorate periods.
The establishment of the Archives du Maroc stems from the findings of the Equity and Reconciliation Committee in 2007 that recommended a national repository of information in order to increase government transparency and support research on twentieth-century Morocco. Dr. Jamaa Baida was appointed director in 2011 and has since assembled an impressive array of sources, with the eventual goal the creation of a true national archive that possesses historical records from all state agencies and ministries.
This, of course, has proved a difficult task. The Archives join a complicated and not always user-friendly archival scene in Rabat. The Bibliothèque Nationale du Royaume du Maroc is a research library with a large collection of manuscripts and historical periodicals; the Hassaniyah library located inside the palace contains the records of the ʿAlawite dynasty, including correspondence between the sultan and his various governors; the Direction des Archives Royales contain another portion of official makhzen (the Moroccan state structures under the Sultan) correspondence with some specific interest in Moroccan international relations in the pre-colonial period.
At the moment, the Archives du Maroc is primarily useful for historians studying the French Protectorate. Although much of the Protectorate archives were repatriated to France following Moroccan independence in 1956, approximately 40% stayed behind. These form the “Fonds Protectorat” of the Archives du Maroc and contain primarily the “gestion,” or management, files rather than the policy or military documents, are now based at the Centre des Archives Diplomatiques in Nantes. Nonetheless, there are exceptions to this rule, and many of the Direction des Affaires Indigènes files remain in Morocco.
The Research Experience
Much of the Fonds Protectorat material deals with the colonial economy, public works, and administrative or legislative matters. All files are originals and, as of yet, nothing has been digitized. The bulk of Affaires Indigènes files and most documents labeled “confidential” returned to France and are housed in the Centre des Archives Diplomatiques-Nantes. Consequently, what stayed in Rabat—the correspondence of technical bureaucrats and administrators—can make for dry reading. Duplicates and blank pages make many boxes appear much larger than they really are.
Unlike the Bibliothèque Nationale or the Saudi Library in Casablanca, there is no online catalog, but three computers on site have searchable catalogs. Cartons are organized by the particular Protectorate offices (Direction des Affaires Indigènes, Direction de l’Agriculture, Commerce et Colonisation, etc.), although descriptions of each box vary in detail. Carton headings usually list time periods, but there is no standard periodization, and boxes will often list a date range but primarily include materials from only a narrow portion of the range. There are also printed catalogs that researchers can browse and use in the event that the servers are down. The most efficient search method is the online catalog. Researchers are likely to find some success with keyword searches but will probably want to follow these up by exploring neighboring boxes and consulting with archivists. The Protectorate files have been fully cataloged; new arrivals (from other government agencies after independence) are cataloged as they come in.
Cartons are requested on small slips of paper in French or Arabic, handed to the assistant in the front of the room. Because Moroccan scholars have yet to fully embrace and explore the Archives, the reading room is usually quiet and requests are filled immediately, with no set “pull times.” The vast majority of the Archives staff are either trained historians or preservationists. They know the collections well and can help researchers navigate through the system. The staff all speak French and Arabic, and a few staff members speak English. The goal from the beginning has been the creation of a transparent state archive, and the staff is committed to the task.
The reading room is a comfortable workspace. It is bright with plenty of windows and thirty-two reader desks that all have outlets and lamps. Although heated, it tends to be quite cold in winter. Laptops are welcome (unlike at the Direction des Archives Royales), but there is no wireless internet access.
The Archives du Maroc are open continuously Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 16:00. It is closed on government holidays and during the entire month of August. Researchers can view the collection for three days with a temporary permit, but longer periods of research require a reader card. These cards can be obtained quickly after submission of two small photos (passport-size, although they can be on regular paper), a letter of attestation, and a passport or carte d’identité. Note that the reader card process is changing as the Archives have recently acquired digital card printers. Doctoral students must pay a 100 dirham registration fee in cash, approximately 10 USD. The archive is not wheelchair accessible.
Photography of all collections is permitted free of charge—something rare in Moroccan archives and libraries. Researchers simply need to fill out an authorization slip (fiche d’autorisation) and have it signed by the reading room director. Most archival documents are in decent shape, the room is well-lit, and photography is easy. The published works on the shelves can be photographed without authorization. Staff will also photocopy documents for 0.5 dirham per page. A request must be filled out, and a photocopy voucher purchased from the registration desk by the entrance. Copies are usually made immediately and ready within an hour or two. Note that documents cannot be reproduced for publication without special permission. There are forms for this available in the reading room.
Transportation and Food
The archive is located on Avenue Ibn Battouta, flanked on one side by the Faculté des Lettres of Mohammed V University and on the other by the annex of the Bibliothèque Nationale. It is a fifteen-minute walk from Rabat Ville train station, just up the hill from Bab Rouah. It can be reached easily by tramway, just a five-minute walk from the Bab Rouah stop. Taxis are easy to pick up on the street outside. There is parking available in front of the Archives and adjacent; pay the guardian a few dirhams when you leave. Those up for the walk can make it on foot from Agdal (30 minutes), Orangers (10 minutes), Centre Ville (20 minutes), Hassan (30 minutes), and even L’Ocean (40 minutes).
While transportation options are plentiful, food options are limited. Small snack vendors operate outside the Faculté building next door, and inside the Faculté and the Bibliothèque Annexe there are coffee machines (3 dirhams). The best dining option is the Café Carrion, a Tetouani café chain, inside the Bibliothèque Nationale, a ten-minute walk. They serve sandwiches, brochettes, omelettes, and the usual atay, espresso, and juices, starting around 25 dirhams. A good alternative is the popular eateries along the tram route, just inside the city walls towards the train station. Here you’ll find four or five eateries serving simple and cheap meals like lentils and loubia, roasted chicken, and Moroccan griddlebreads like harsha and ghrif.
The Archives du Maroc are located at Avenue Ibn Batouta, Rabat 10080. The Phone number is 05 37 77 66 85. The Director is Dr. Jamaa Baida. A new website recently launched. At the time of publication, it has little information, but updates are expected soon. Inquiries can be sent through the website.
Resources and Links
Daniel Rivet’s article provides some guidance as to what sorts of Protectorate records remain in Morocco and which are housed in French archives. See Daniel Rivet, “Archives coloniales et écriture de l’histoire du Protectorat,” Recherches sur l’histoire du Maroc: esquisse de bilan (1989): 25-33. Interviews with the Director of the Archives shed some light on the collections and their history; they can be found here and here.
Graham H. Cornwell is a PhD candidate in History at Georgetown University, working on the history of tea and sugar in modern Morocco. He is the co-editor of tajine, a podcast and blog about North Africa.
Cite this: Graham H. Cornell, “Archive du Maroc,” HAZINE, 8 July 2015, http://hazine.info/archives-du-maroc/