History Tantalizingly Within Reach

TALIM Microfilm Archives
The archives of the American Legation at Tangier record that 74 years ago the Sultan of Morocco, disturbed at the predatory methods of certain European Powers who looked covetously in the direction of Morocco and particularly Tangier, expressed the desire to turn over his entire empire as a protectorate to the United States.  We were not then in the mood to assume transatlantic responsibilities and courteously declined the offer.

Graham H. Stuart, "The Future of Tangier," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 23, No. 4, July 1945

Stuart, who was one of Stanford University's leading political scientists in the interwar period, was serving in 1945 as advisor to the U. S. Consul General in Morocco, where he assisted in drafting a new statute for the international city of Tangier.  His reference to "74 years ago" would put that Tangier Legation document circa 1871.

So, over to our research library, which we know to be particulary strong in pre-independence Moroccan history.  A few months ago, I randomly opened up a drawer in a metal filing cabinet and my heart almost stopped: nicely boxed and stamped "National Archives," were dozens of microfilm records, labeled "Despatches from U.S. Consuls in Tangier, 1797 – 1906."

But we have no means to read the microfilms; we have no microfilm reader/printer.  So close, and yet so far away.  I have learned that "pre-owned" microfilm readers go for about $5,000, but does it make any sense for us to plonk down precious dollars for a machine that may have seen too much use in a high school library?  I take it that the reason "pre-owned" models show up on the web is that this is bygone technology, no longer in production.

Think of it: we are trying to make the long pageant of American-Moroccan relations more apparent to our visitors, trying to use our abundant research library resources to illustrate some fascinating chapters in Legation history.  But one of our primary reference collections is unreadable, unreachable.

I for one would like to find that 1871 reference that Graham Stuart so tantalizingly referred to.  Imagine being the American Consul in Tangier at the time (it was Felix Mathews), and learning that there are overtures to the US.  This is during the post-Civil War Reconstruction in the US, and expansion is Westward, not across the Atlantic.  One wonders what the reception would have been just a few decades later, when soon-to-be President Theodore Roosevelt chafed at the "obstacles to immediate expansion."

Roosevelt would get his chance to wave his big stick at Morocco in the early 1900s.  But the question remains: what lies behind this reference to Morocco as potential US protectorate in the 1870s?  The diplomatic record is waiting to be re-discovered.

Any scholars out there interested?

Gerald Loftus

2 thoughts on “History Tantalizingly Within Reach”

  1. “Any scholars out there interested?” Absolutely!
    I am sure that the good folks at Google have both the technical ability and the money to transform these important microfilm records into instantly available documents. Inshalla, international relations and foreign affairs departments of several U.S. (and a few Moroccan!?) universities might want to assist as well.

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