French Perceptions of Algerian Society at the Onset of Colonial Conquest (ca.1840-1860)

Danford Room
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Wednesday 9th October 2013 (17:00-19:00)
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Jacques Fremeaux, Paris Sorbonne

At the onset of the French occupation of Algeria, French officers were coming from a country that had recently witnessed a major revolution and was becoming an industrial power. These conditions meant that the French military officers who moved to Algeria in the middle of the nineteenth century were lucidly aware of the existence of classes, and they used their understanding of class in Algerian society as an instrument of power. However, they knew that a strong sense of religious solidarity tended to blur class divisions. Concurrently, they tried to divide anti-colonial resistance by supporting the view of a common racial identity of French and Berbers. Moreover, some French colonial officers thought that French action should aim at improving the condition of women, in the hope that this would elicit the gratitude of the better half of the Algerian population and lead to a sincere acceptance of foreign domination. This paper examines how French perceptions and expectations influenced the interactions between French colonialists and Algerian subjects.