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The Margueritte Affaire: Colonialism in Trial in Fin-de-Siècle Algeria and France
The Margueritte Affair is a microhistorical study of a 1901 "insurrection" against French rule in Algeria and the public debate sparked by the trial of the accused rebels in Montpellier in 1902-03. In April 1901, members of the Righa tribe invaded the village of Margueritte (now Aïn Torki), demanding that its colonists convert to Islam and killing several who refused to comply were killed. 107 Righa men were charged with murder, rebellion, and other crimes for their alleged participation in these events. They were tried not in Algeria, however, but in metropolitan France, before the Cour d'Assises of Montpellier. Defense lawyers used this circumstance to focus attention on the French colonial regime, arguing with surprising success that the inequities of settler colonialism made the revolt an act of legitimate self-defense. Jurors acquitted three quarters of the defendants, and those convicted were given relatively light sentences, to the outrage of Algeria's settler community. Drawing on the voluminous judicial files from the case, administrative records, and newspapers, the book situates the uprising and trial within the contexts of French settlement in Algeria, Algerian traditions of popular Islam, the symbolic economy of colonial prestige, the Dreyfus Affair and the settler anti-Jewish movement of the 1890s, and a global struggle for settler autonomy at the dawn of the twentieth century. This nested analysis offers a new, detailed account of everyday life and the unexpectedly complex social relations of rural colonial Algeria, an examination of the relationships between social, religious, and political violence in French North Africa, and the specificities of colonial violence in settler societies.
Jennifer Sessions' research interests center on the relationship between France and its overseas empire, and on the intersections of culture and politics. Her recent book, By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest of Algeria (Cornell University Press, 2011), uses archival, visual, and literary sources to trace the foundation of the French settler colony in Algeria in the mid-nineteenth century. Listen to a New Books in History podcast interview regarding this book here. She is currently at work on two projects exploring settler practices of commemoration in colonial Algeria and the 1901 "Margueritte Revolt" and subsequent trial of the accused Algerian participants. Professor Sessions joined the History Department in 2005 after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.