On Monday, September 30 2019, James Miller spoke with TALIM Director John Davison about the joint Moroccan-American archaeological project at the site of ancient Sijilmasa and the publication of book, “The Last Civilized Place: Sijilmasa and Its Saharan Destiny” (University of Texas Press, 2015). “The Last Civilized Place,” written by Miller and Project Director Ronald Messier, recounts the story of the Project, its archaeological findings, and places Sijilmasa in the context of Moroccan and Islamic history, revealing the 1000-year history of the caravan center as a focus of trans-Saharan trade and focal point of dynastic change.
The conversation led to a wide variety of topics associated with Sijilmasa: its origins in the second century A.H. and the establishment of the Midrarid dynasty and their Sufri religious background, the significance of the surrounding irrigated oasis landscape of the Tafilalt, the unprotected nature of the site of Sijilmasa today and the threats to it posed by the growth of the adjacent modern town of Rissani. The relations Sijilmasa long held with ancient Ghana and successor states south of the Sahara were rooted in the element of trade for which Sijilmasa was known far and wide from its earliest days, namely gold. Gold, African gold, was Sijilmasa’s fame, and the city and its caravans and commercial reach were the result of its long-held monopoly on the trans-Saharan gold trade.
James Miller received his PhD in cultural geography from the University of Texas and taught in the Department of History and Geography at Clemson University (South Carolina, USA) for 28 years. Upon retiring from Clemson, Miller became the Executive Director of the Moroccan-American Commission for Educational & Cultural Exchange (MACECE – Fulbright Morocco) in 2009 and retired from that position in 2018. Miller was, 2007-2010, President of AIMS and since 2018 has been Vice President of the organization. He serves on the boards of TALIM and CorpsAfrica. Miller is the co-author of the geography textbook, A Question of Place (Wiley) and the monography The Last Civilized Place: Sijilmasa and Its Saharan Destiny (University of Texas Press), and the author of Imlil: A Modern Moroccan Geography (Westview). Miller was a political officer in the U.S. Foreign Service and, retired, lives in Skaneateles, New York.