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Between Brothers and Archenemies. Christian and Muslim border crossings in and around Spanish-Northern Africa (ca 1851–1869)

In her PhD project, Sara Mehlmer analyzes different forms of border crossings between Morocco and Spain in the borderland around Spanish-Northern Africa (Ceuta and Melilla) in the second half of the 19th century (ca 1851–1869). Her microhistorical research focuses on the people and groups of people crossing the Spanish-Moroccan border more or less permanently, as well as on the specific practices of border crossing. It analyzes both the role of physical and psychological violence and of religious, ethnic and social belonging concerning the carrying out, legitimizing, preventing or undoing, and interpreting the crossings.  

Islam, as the traditional antagonist and threatening archenemy since the so called ‚Reconquista‘, played a crucial role in the construction of Catholic Spain’s self-image. To prevent another invasion by the ‚moros‘, Spain and Portugal had conquered several places on the North African coast – amongst others, Ceuta and Melilla. Due to their defensive character, the Spanish exclaves can easily be interpreted as symbols of the ‚eternal hostility‘ and of irreconcilable religious, cultural and national differences. Contrary to this, the different cases of border crossings demonstrate the relativity and (conditional) permeability of borders and boundaries between Spain and Morocco. They do not only evade the common binary scheme of ‚Catholics / Spaniards’ vs. ‚Muslims / Moroccans‘ but do also throw light on the changing position of Church and state in 19th century Spain.