Sumayya Ahmed, a doctoral candidate in the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is spending three months in Morocco this summer with support from an American Institute of Maghrib Studies (AIMS) grant.
Ahmed’s research focuses on documentary heritage as it relates to the digital preservation of Arabic, Amazigh (Berber), and Islamic manuscripts in North Africa (the Maghrib). Her proposed dissertation is titled “Documentary Heritage Disclosure: The Case of the Hassan II Prize for Manuscripts and Archival Documents in Post-colonial Morocco,” and her advisor is SILS associate professor Cal Lee.
Given the tendency towards nondisclosure and even the hiding of privately-owned historic manuscripts in Morocco, the Hassan II Prize’s success in eliciting 35,000 submissions is significant. Ahmed is studying how the Prize has overcome resistance to archival disclosure and negotiated access to private collections and the factors that have motivated manuscript holder to contribute. She is using her time in Morocco to conduct semi-structured interviews with submitters to and administrators of the Prize, observe the 2015 Hassan II Prize process at the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, and analyze local periodicals, government, and historic documents, as well as the copies of the submitted manuscripts and historic records stored at the Moroccan National Library.
By providing rare insight into the motivations of private owners of historic manuscripts and archival documents, Ahmed’s research may help inform the development of culturally specific digitization plans that are capable of addressing the concerns of private owners, thereby increasing their participation in cultural heritage conservation and preservation outreach projects.
Prior to entering the doctoral program at SILS, Ahmed received an M.A. in Arab Studies from the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University and a B.A. from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. As an undergraduate she spent time studying Moroccan culture and language through the School of International Training in Rabat, Morocco. She held the Educating Librarians in the Middle East for the 21st Century (ELIME-21) Fellowship from 2011-2015.
AIMS is a private, non-profit educational organization that works to facilitate research in North Africa and encourage the free exchange of information between American and North African scholars. In the United States, AIMS sponsors the Journal of North African Studies (JNAS), provides grants scholars interested in conducting research in the Maghrib, hosts an annual conference and dissertation workshop, and supports the Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS). Abroad, AIMS organizes programs in collaboration with scholars and institutions throughout North Africa.
Photo by Sumayya Ahmed showing a 200-year-old manuscript and an archival document.