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Algerian war: “This period arouses a lot of interest at the university”

The Cross The Weekly : Is the Algerian war a subject of study like the others?

Jeremy Guedj: Certainly not. And even less at the University of Nice, located in a region where many families have a link with Algeria. During my classes, I have in front of me many grandchildren of actors or witnesses of the war. A certain number also seem to study history out of interest in this family past.

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In my laboratory, the Center for the Modern and Contemporary Mediterranean, students choose to focus, in memory or in thesis, on this conflict or on the colonial past of Algeria. Grandchildren of repatriates, for example, will seek to show that not all pied-noirs corresponded to the figure of the rich, powerful, dominating settler. Even among students who have no family ties with Algeria, this piece of history arouses a lot of interest.

What makes this theme so special?

JJ: It is because it mixes both history and memory. History, with its complexity and its scientific imperatives. And the memory which is more a matter of intimate experience, of the affective, of transmission. To reconcile these two aspects, I decided, in my course on culture and power in France from 1945 to the 2000s, to study the different memories of the Algerian war, the way in which they find echo in the literature or cinema, the positions taken by intellectuals, the reactions of public opinion.

Is this teaching sometimes a source of tension and dispute?

JJ: The tension could sometimes be perceptible when I approached these subjects in secondary school or during public conferences, but I have never been confronted with aggression or challenge since I taught at university. . Students show respect for knowledge and research work. Many may retain a sense of greater closeness to one side of a conflict than another. But over the course, most come to see the complexity of this conflict and recognize that each side may have experienced suffering. The truth is never unequivocal.

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Is there a form of memory war around Algeria?

JJ: In my eyes, there is no such conflict within the community of students and teacher-researchers. Admittedly, academics – not necessarily historians – position themselves in relation to the movement observed on certain American campuses where one seeks to rewrite history to rid it of what some consider to be complacency with regard to colonialism.

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But these debates have no influence, in our country, on the lesson of the Algerian war. No more than the now overhyped question of Islam. Moreover, I strive in my classes to show that this conflict, linked in particular to enormous inequalities, had nothing to do with a war of religions. Even though it may have served as a theater for racist opinions or acts, it did not constitute a “race war” either, as one could say at the time.


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