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KSU expands global vision with museum project in Morocco

Seeds for the Muslim world’s first community museum — coming soon to Morocco’s legendary city of Casablanca — were planted in February when a delegation from Kennesaw State University joined officials and university representatives there in laying the groundwork.

Unlike traditional museums that primarily preserve and display antiquities and great works of art, the yet-to-be-named community museum will document the day-to-day lives of local people — their customs, traditions, language, transportation, cuisine, dress, art and stories — as well as the community’s architecture, migration and personalities. It will be the first of its kind among Morocco’s 14 public museums, none of which are located in Casablanca.

During the seven-day research and planning mission, KSU representatives and project partners from the Université Hassan II Mohammadia in Casablanca’s Ben M’Sik district announced the planned museum’s first exhibit — Ben M’Sik: Creating Community in Casablanca. It is scheduled to open by year’s end.

The KSU delegation included Catherine Lewis, associate professor of history, Thierry Leger, associate dean of humanities and social sciences, and Cindy Vengroff, project coordinator for KSU’s Holocaust Education Program.

“Community museums are a relatively new phenomenon, even in America,” said Lewis, who also directs the Holocaust Education Program and coordinates the Public History Program at KSU. “To build one in this large, multicultural and diverse working-class area in Casablanca really offers an opportunity to examine how museums can simultaneously preserve what is important to know and remember about a community and serve as a major cultural resource for that same community.”

KSU’s involvement in the project resulted from a December 2007 visit to Kennesaw’s campus by Rahma Bourquia, Hassan II’s president. Following a tour of three exhibits managed by the Holocaust Education Program, she expressed a desire to begin collaboration on a public history and museum project for Casablanca.

“What Dr. Bourquia saw in these exhibits and what we hope to create in Casablanca is a way to record social history and preserve the memory of a community,” Lewis said.

The subject of the museum’s first exhibit, Ben M’Sik is the largest, poorest and most densely populated of Casablanca’s six districts. It has long been considered a “holding room” for successive waves of migrants — most recently from the drought-stricken Chaouia and Doukala regions of Morocco.

The area is ripe for a community museum, says Lewis, because of the cultural and ethnic diversity resulting from a steady influx of Arabic, Berber and French-speaking migrants. In addition, since the 1980s, the local government has worked to improve social conditions and establish cultural and social institutions in the area.

Municipal officials announced in February that the government will construct a building to house the planned community museum on public land in the heart of the Ben M’Sik district, directly across from the neighborhood mosque, amid clinics and shops. Project leaders expect the museum to be completed by 2009.

Until then, Hassan II University will house the museum’s first exhibit. The multilingual display will consist of 10 panels of text, photographs and other images, with each panel presenting different aspects of the community’s people, customs and artifacts. The exhibit is designed to travel to public facilities throughout the region.

Leading the project in Morocco are Hassan II’s Leila Maziane, assistant professor of history and Samir El Azhar, assistant professor of English.

For more information about the Casablanca project or KSU's Public History Program, visit:

Posted: April 2, 2008