Charles de Foucauld’s Reconnaissance au Maroc, 1883–1884

Charles de Foucauld’s Reconnaissance au Maroc, 1883–1884

A Critical Edition in English

By Rosemary A. Peters-Hill

Anthem Studies in Travel

Reconnaissance au Maroc is Charles de Foucauld’s adventurous memoir of exploring Morocco. For eleven months in 1883–84, Foucauld travelled incognito through a country then off-limits to Europeans, mapping its waterways. This book is a translation of Foucauld’s memoir into English, with an extensive introduction and notes that contextualize the work within Francophone post-colonial studies.

PDF, 472 Pages


September 2020

£45.00, $75.00

EPUB, 472 Pages


September 2020

£45.00, $75.00

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About This Book

Womanizer – Delinquent – Glutton – Deserter; Visionary – Linguist – Explorer – Hermit. The lexical fields do not match, yet both sets of descriptors apply to one man: Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916), one of nineteenth-century France’s most complex and challenging figures. Upon graduation from the prestigious École de Saumur, Foucauld went to North Africa with his cavalry regiment. In a sense, he never went home: the desert had called to him, converted him even, and the once-renegade scion devoted the rest of his life to studying the land and culture of North Africa and preserving its language and traditions. The two halves of his life part almost mathematically: a dissolute, disconsolate orphan whose wealthy family, peers, and superiors did not know what to do with him; and then an intuitive, dedicated scholar and priest who revolutionized European knowledge of Morocco’s geography and culture, and defied the mission civilisatrice by refusing to evangelize the Berber population among whom he lived. Foucauld’s biography typically divides into these two sections, with his youth glossed almost as a fleeting adventure and clear priority assigned to his later years as a hermit and spiritual director.

This book seeks to turn that model on its head. Rosemary Peters-Hill provides an in-depth examination of the year Foucauld spent exploring Morocco in 1883–1884, after he had resigned his army commission and taught himself Arabic and Hebrew. This book is more than merely a translation: it is a meticulously researched and documented critical edition that addresses the history of nineteenth-century French colonial endeavors and Moroccan resistance to them; cultural traditions and spaces within the closed country where Foucauld sojourned; the intersections of language, politics, and economics with religion; the praxis of Arabic and Berber interactions and the ways in which official cartographies neglect local knowledge of tribal and seasonal rituals; and the failures of Empire when it comes to defining or delimiting national identity. Peters-Hill, as a literary scholar, also brings to bear a careful examination of Foucauld as author: the ways he pitched his account toward government bodies likely to pay attention to them, his use of literary tropes within his memoir, his narrative agency. And the way these things change: through Foucauld’s encounter, and increasing identification, with Morocco as not just a backdrop for imperial expansion but a subject and a plurality of voices in its own right. As Foucauld’s narrative advances, so too do its Arabic inflections, its lyricism about landscape and cultural practices, its investment in documenting and preserving Morocco’s own specific history. Another, much later, Foucault (Michel) would write that space itself has a history: he might well have been inspired by Charles de Foucauld’s conversion and dedication to the specific selves and possibilities discovered during his immersion in Moroccan space.

Peters-Hill has written a study of Charles de Foucauld’s youthful undertaking in unknown territory that seeks to represent as honestly as possible both the evolution of Foucauld’s mindset regarding French engagement in Morocco and the consequences of his work in that country. While delving into how the author is changed by Morocco, she nonetheless holds Foucauld accountable for his nationalist and religious biases, the details he discounts or ignores, the unavoidable oversights in such a brief cultural encounter, the things he got wrong. She situates Foucauld’s year in Morocco as the exegesis of his ultimate desert calling, the transformation of a black sheep into a sacrificial lamb, a man the Catholic Church venerates as a martyr. This critical edition draws from several discrete fields, which nonetheless intersect in Foucauld – travel writing, botany, hydrology, and topography; cartography, ethnography and sociology; linguistics and amazighité, alongside formal literary criticism and French (post-) colonial studies – to present a fuller view of a writer whose legacy remains an inspiration, a frustration, and an enigma.


The first English translation of Charles de Foucauld’s masterpiece, with a thoughtful and very innovative introduction in which the translator, after situating Reconnaissance au Maroc in the history of exploration literature, shows that, by going to meet Morocco, Foucauld went to meet himself. — Dominique Casajus, Directeur de Recherche Emeritus at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris

English readers are finally in for a special treat. The long-awaited translation of one of the most important travel accounts ever to be written about Morocco and its southern hinterlands is onshore after a long period of waiting. This is a book about history, exploration, Jews, tribal Morocco and more. Despite its French colonial biases, its rich ethnographic and historical details did not only provide the background for military occupation of Morocco, but they remain to be the subject of historical conversations among many members of academic circles as well.— Aomar Boum, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles

Charles de Foucault, after resigning from the army and meeting Oscar Mac Carthy (geographer), focuses on Morocco. In 1888, he published his geographic and ethnographic journey, Reconnaissance au Maroc (1883–1884), through which he reveals an unknown country to Europe. Nowadays, Rosemary A. Peters-Hill gives us a beautiful critical study of this work. — Yannick Essertel, Professor of History, and Associate Researcher at Centre de recherche et de documentation sur l'Océanie (CREDO)

Professor Peters-Hill makes a significant contribution to the historiography of Europeans in Morocco. The work of a scholar of literary and cultural studies attentive to matters of religion provides a welcome counterpoint to the devotional literature on Foucauld.— Seth Graebner, Associate Professor of French and of International and Area Studies, Washington University in St. Louis

Author Information

Rosemary Peters-Hill holds the Albert and Angelle Arnaud Professorship in French Heritage at Louisiana State University. Her research and publications mainly treat French literature of the nineteenth century, through the lens of cultural studies.


Anthem Studies in Travel

Table of Contents

List of Figures; Acknowledgments; “There are no roads”: Charles de Foucauld’s Reconnaissance au Maroc—a Critical Introduction, Rosemary A. Peters- Hill; Charles de Foucauld, Reconnaissance au Maroc, 1883–1884; Letter to François de Bondy; Introduction; Avant- Propos; I. Tangiers to Meknès; II. Meknès to Qaçba Beni Mellal; III. Qaçba Beni Mellal to Tikirt; IV. Tikirt to Tissint; V. Sojourn in the Sahara; VI. Tissint to Mogador; VII. Mogador to Tissint; VIII. Tissint to the Dadès; IX. The Dadès to Qçabi ech Cheurfa; X. Qçabi ech Chorfa to Lalla Maghnia; Appendix: The Jews of Morocco; Note on the Materials Used to Draw Up My Itinerary; Report Delivered to the Société de Géographie de Paris in Its General Session of 24 April 1885 by M. Henri Duveyrier on the Journey of M. the Viscount Charles de Foucauld through Morocco; “Itineraries in Morocco” by the Viscount Charles de Foucauld; Afterwards: An Afterword, Rosemary A. Peters- Hill; Glossary of Terms; Bibliography; Index.


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