History and Classics
2-22 Tory Building
Dr. E. Ann McDougall is a Professor in the Department of History and Classics, at the University of Alberta.
Dr. McDougall joined the University of Alberta in 1986, having received her PhD from the University of Birmingham, U.K. (1980) and a BA (1975) and MA (1976) from the University of Toronto. An inspiring professor in her first year ‘Third World History’ course enticed her away from dreams of law school and into the challenges of African History. She spent a ‘junior-year-abroad’ at the University of Birmingham UK (1973-4) – and never regretted her subsequent decision to move into African Studies. She returned to Birmingham for PhD work with esteemed Professor of Economic History, A G Hopkins. However, even as she set up her research in Africa, she began to realize that the idea of economic history was much more embedded in social and cultural history than that of her supervisor and others in the field; but in spite of suggestions to the contrary, she was sure she was not an anthropologist! It was archival work in Mali, Mauritania and Morocco (colonial written documents deposited in various locations) that raised questions she thought might be further addressed by local inhabitants – in other words, perhaps local people could help her better understand what had been happening in the dry, dusty documents -- and why.
‘What had been happening and why…’ concerning the role of the salt trade in the Sahara desert cross-cut by these contemporary countries, that is. Mali was one of those inland regions dependent on various kinds of vegetable and mineral salts but none was easily obtainable nor necessarily, satisfactory. The best salt was that of the desert (for both humans and animals), and this was what she wanted to explore. As a pre-colonial industry, how had it functioned, which people were involved and how, and what impact had the imposition of French colonial rule had on both industry and people? This was the topic of her thesis and several subsequent articles.
However, the fieldwork – the interviews with local people in oases/villages scattered throughout the region -- drew her increasingly into the social aspects of both the economy and the politics of these countries. Having studied the salt industry (and the local economy that supported it), she inevitably studied ‘labour”. And the most interesting group among those who supplied labour (including slaves even in the very recent past) was the hratîn or ‘freed slave’ class. Not all were actually ‘freed slaves’ but it was by far the most important labouring class within Mauritania and Morocco (at that point, she began to shift more towards these regions because of cultural and family connections tying them closely together). She has written extensively on this class over the past several years.
In 2008, Dr. McDougall was awarded a SSHRC research grant to look more closely at the hratîn comparatively (between southern Morocco and Mauritania), over time (literally from the firsts instances we can find reference to the group in Arabic documents to contemporary times) and with respect to their contemporary political position. It is the last point that is most striking at the moment: both Mauritania and Morocco are ‘democratizing’. This class of former slaves constitutes in each country close to (if not more than), a majority of potential voters. Their impact has suddenly been noticed by political scientists but the latter have no idea of the historical dynamic in place that drives the current politics of hratîn. Unfortunately, the timeliness of this particular project has temporarily posed an ironic obstacle: democratic elections in Mauritania were delayed from early June until mid-July to allow opposition parties opportunity to campaign in what had been a government-controlled process; visa applications for the country were subsequently suspended. Further irony? There was actually a haratîn candidate running for president – unheard of. Moreover – he ran second to a ‘noble’ Mauritanian who had orchestrated a coup-d’état a year ago against the first democratic government the country had ever known. Her research could not be better timed as an exploration of hratîn social and political identity but its very significance currently jeopardized her ability to carry out the necessary fieldwork in Mauritania. As she had to await a visa for this country, she made plans to undertake the Moroccan part of the work later in the autumn of 2009. At that time, she hoped to conclude a study that will involve the assistance of local scholars in administering questionnaires to samples of hratîn in both countries, followed up by selected ‘life-history’ interviews that should enhance our understanding of the more statistical data. In the final presentations, articles and book emerging from the project, she hoped to situate an analysis of this contemporary process of creating politically-significant haratîn identities in a larger, historical context.
For an article relevant to both the subject matter and methodology of this project, see:
“Living the legacy of Slavery: between discourse and reality”, Cahiers d’etudes Africaines, “Esclavage modern ou modernite d’esclavage?” XLV (3-4) 179/80 (December 2005):957-86.
Dr. Ann E. McDougall Curriculum Vitae