Madia Thomson


Dr. Thomson received her Ph.D. from the Department of History at Boston University in 2005. Her dissertation, entitled "The Historical Present: Modernization, Slavery, and the Transformation of Social Hierarchy in Southwestern Morocco, 1912-1956," addressed aspects of modernization and social change in twentieth-century Morocco through the lens of slavery. Her dissertation argues that the actions of slaves encouraged changes in the institution of slavery that, when combined with the forces of economic modernization, reshaped earlier social configurations. Patron-client relations in Moroccan society mirrored the power structures of the institution of slavery; changes in the institution therefore reflected changes in the political economy of Morocco. Using Arabic, Berber, and French sources, the study first examined life in Berber-speaking Tazerwalt (southwestern Morocco) where the saint Sidi Ahmed ou Moussa established a zawiya, religious center, in the sixteenth century. As elsewhere during this period, the region consisted of social groups with varying social power: shorfa, the Prophet Muhammed's descendants; igourramen, saints' descendants; imazighen, white Berbers; issouqin, black Berbers; isemgan, black slaves; udain, Jews. The religious heritage attributed to the shorfa and igourramen assured high social standing. Lacking similar standing, imazighen, isemgan, and issouqin defined themselves in terms of economic function, family origins, and physiognomy; differences of religion distinguished them from udain. Using this social organization as a baseline, the dissertation shows how a combination of government policies and human agency under the Protectorate promoted both domestic and international migration amongst non-elites, eliminating slavery and giving Moroccan society its current fluid, increasingly urban social configuration. The following paper, derived from that larger study, presents an analysis of identity formation among the descendants of formerly enslaved individuals in Morocco.