Resources for Teachers

In July 2003, The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University (contact: Zeina Azzam Seikaly, Outreach Coordinator, organized an afternoon seminar on the integration of "Leo Africanus" into High-school World History courses in the United States.

This provided me with the opportunity to hear numerous teachers' insight and input on feasible and enticing ways to integrate Leo's persona, writings and world into a high school course. Here are a few pointers on how this might be done:

1. Use Amin Maalouf's novel
Amin Maalouf's novel (Leo Africanus) constitutes the most common entry point into Leo's life and world. Most people who come across Leo as a historic persona first met him in Maalouf's romanticized narrative. His novel has the unmatched merit of introducing , in a relatively economical and exciting way, the context of the 16th century Mediterranean world: starting in 1492, with the Christian reconquest of Spain from Muslims the book leads us into the late 1520s, following battles between Turks, Portuguese and Germans, culminating with the Sac of Rome...In the backdrop of these clashes and turmoil, Maalouf invents a cross-cultural protagonist, who adopts the ways of life and thought of numerous people (Spanish, North African Muslim, Egyptian Copt, Timbuktu Merchant, Renaissance Scholar...)- a convenient way to introduce students to the vast spectrum of different people who inhabited the rich Mediterranean region. This chameleon persona is also a good platform to build discussions on the nature of identity and of the differences among cultures.

2. Combine with website
In tandem with the novel, this website can provide a historical, illustrated and multimedia complement to Leo's persona and times. The most convenient features are probably:
Picture of Leo
Pictures of Morocco (see all three expeditions)
Access to Bibliographical information for student papers

3. Assign discussion topics, here are some examples:

1. Ask students to choose one of the locations mentioned in the novel (Fes, Tetoutan or Sijilmassa for example) and find it on the website (either as part of a map, or more interesting, a picture of that place as it stands today). If there is a description from Leo's treaty, compare the description to the novel, and to the way the place looks today. What has changed? Why may it have changed?

For example, here is a picture of a Fondouk (a hostel) in Fes--(you have to scroll down to the end of the page to see the pictures of a Fondouk). These hotels catered to "out of town" guests and Leo may have stayed or visited such a place on one of many occasions: when his family fled from Granada, arrived in Fes and needed time to find a new home; when he prepared for his trans-Saharan expeditions, and needed to find merchants to travel with, or to buy supplies from - notice that this fondouk has a huge hanging scale, as many transactions were conducted in the main courtyard.

2. How does the "Leo Africanus" presented on the web site differ from Amin Maalouf's fictional character? Does Maalouf settle for a specific interpretation of Leo's persona: predominantly Muslim, predominantly converted, predominantly cosmopolite and ambiguous? Use the "About Leo" section of the website to answer this question. More advanced students may want to refer to the Bibliography section and look up Davis (Princeton historian) or Zhiri's (UC Davis historian) work for thorough discussions on Leo's identity and the sources of our historical knowledge.

3. In Maalouf's depiction of Hassan/Leo, how does the latter go about discovering foreign lands and other cultures: Does he have an anthropologist's eye (documenting rituals from an outside perspective) or does he appear as a more uncritical and enthusiastic participant? Think of his interactions with the people of Timbouctou, Rome, Cairo...

4. What features of contemporary Morocco do you find most interesting? (you can refer to my experiences there, see About Cristel)

5. What in your opinion are the greatest merits of travel to a 'foreign' land? Can you think of effective ways to bring this experience into the classroom?

6. Think about the different ways we can talk about our experience abroad: pictures, stories, references to books, movies, TV shows, recipes... Using the website, compare the various ways in which Cristel talks about her time in Morocco - which have more life? Which give you the most vivid understanding of the country? What would you have done?