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Colonial settlers’ memories explored in new online course

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Europeans disembarking in Algiers by steam boat in 1899 (Detroit Publishing Co., Public domain)

The experiences of former European settlers of colonial Algeria will be the focus of a new online course launched by the University of Stirling.

Through a mixture of archive footage, extracts from literary and journalistic texts, the “Remembering Empire” course will explore what can be learned from the settlers’ surprising stories.

Algeria was a French settler colony from 1830 to 1962. However, following the violent conclusion to an eight-year long struggle for Algerian Independence, nearly one million settlers left in a few months.

Example of French-Algerian architecture

Although technically French, for many of them, France – the ‘mother-country’ – was a foreign land. Since then, some settler activist groups have campaigned to be recognised as victims of decolonisation, rather than as perpetrators of an oppressive and racist colonial system.

Course leader Dr Fiona Barclay, Senior Lecturer in French at Stirling, said: “This story is little known in the English-speaking world but is actually an excellent case study for understanding the role of colonial memory in our own troubled times. With the rise of nationalism, evidence by Brexit in the UK and Trump in the USA, the memory of imperial pasts are called on by populist movements as proof of potential future glory.

“Investigating how the French settlers of Algeria remember themselves and their history in colonial Algeria can shed lights how myths about colonialism are shaped and why they might not tell us the whole story. “

Settlers leaving in 1962 “Does France still love us?” (Paris-Match no. 686, 2 June 1962)

Settlers leaving in 1962 “Does France still love us?” (Paris-Match no. 686, 2 June 1962)

The “Remembering Empire” course  features five sessions that take students on a step-by-step journey through the different stories crafted by the former French settlers; from their early years as ‘pioneers’, to the ‘coloniser’ myth of a harmonious, fraternal society, to their experiences as ‘refugees’ fleeing Algeria. Each week, it will also make links to the memory of British colonialism, such as Scottish settlers in other colonies around the world.

The course will launch on 17 October and run for five weeks. It is free and open to anyone with an interest in collective memory, colonialism and migration.

Dr Barclay, whose article was published by The Conversation yesterday, added: “The course will be especially useful for educators and professionals in museums or the heritage sector.”

You can register your interest at https://iversity.org/en/courses/remembering-empire and watch the course advert on YouTube.

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