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Published: June 22, 2015

History Comes to Life for UT Students in Morocco

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Marrakech is known for its ancient market with its maze of streets, acrobatic performers, musicians and snake charmers. Wandering these streets and visiting ruins of the Saadien dynasty were some of the ways history became tangible for the UT students who recently traveled to Morocco.

Storytelling, traditional cooking methods and cross-cultural intellectual dialogue capped the history travel course, "HIS 103: World History Since 1500."

“I learned about Moroccan culture, which introduced me to new people and views of the world,” said Patrick McDermott ’16, a mathematical programming major from Massapequa, NY.

McDermott’s class met first in the classroom and then on site in Morocco, making the connection between historical record and life in North Africa today.

“The course aims to reinforce student learning about Morocco as a case study in modern world history, and to build student understanding of current issues in Moroccan society and culture through personal interactions with Moroccan students, filmmakers, development workers and entrepreneurs,” said Spencer Segalla, associate professor of history, who specializes in the history of European colonialism, decolonization and transnational relations in Muslim North and West Africa.

“Hopefully, students will form connections with Morocco that they will maintain over the years to come, and hopefully our students will become global citizens who will build international lives and careers,” Segalla said.

“I loved meeting students our ages at a Moroccan university in which we had very detailed and diverse conversations about world topics and local problems,” McDermott said. “I also loved our drives between cities in which we explored the countryside, which was incredible.”

The group interacted with local historian-activist Lahsen Rousafi, “a passionate advocate of preserving the history of Morocco before the Baby Boom generation passes away,” Segalla said. They got messy in the kitchen with Moroccan women who taught the group how to make traditional Moroccan delicacies, like bastilla, cracked argan nuts at an argan cooperative and picked up a few words in the Moroccan dialect of Arabic called Darija.

Justin Lafko ’16, an international and cultural studies major from Buffalo, NY, said, “I came to realize the richness and diversity of Moroccan culture.”

Traveling to a country where English speakers are a minority was a challenge McDermott wanted to embrace, as was the independence and growth experienced by traveling without his family.

“I felt that I received a very positive experience from this trip because I learned so much,” McDermott said. “It helped me broaden my view of the world.”

Segalla plans to offer the course again in Spring 2017.


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