Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, AFRICAN HISTORY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 16 January 2018

North Africa and France: Imperialism, Colonialism, and Women, 1830–1962

Summary and Keywords

The workings of modern empire can better be viewed through the lens of gender because gendered hierarchies illuminate broad, intersecting aspects of the colonial project.

Community, kinship, household economies, religion, education, sexuality, social engineering, nationalism, and transnational reform movements were all inflected by imperial patriarchy in various guises. This perspective is especially rich for “French” North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) from 1830 until 1962 since the region and its peoples were subjected to intense forms of “European” settler colonialism. From the start, the “woman question” assumed particularly fraught and contentious dimensions whose repercussions can be detected even today. Nevertheless, colonial North Africa did not represent a self-enclosed container. Transimperial and global processes shaped the sociopolitical terrain, and in turn. Policies, practices, and resistance in the Maghrib exerted a powerful torque far beyond its limits. Key to understanding women, gender, and settler colonialism is the state of the “archive,” the sprawling corpus of records, writings, words, things, and images left in an empire’s wake. The voices of women, children, and “ordinary” people, those labeled “the colonized,” have until recently been missing in conventional narratives. As Antoinette Burton observed, the archives themselves structure “the conceptual frameworks of women’s and gender history.” In the imperial historical context, the task of recuperating and restoring lost voices is all the more problematic, yet urgent. One might also add that the fundamental question is “whether ‘women’ is a category at all.”

Keywords: France, North Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, women, gender, education, sexuality, nationalism

North Africa: Imperialism, Settler Colonialism, and Women, 1830–1962

The essence of empire social, cultural, and racial difference enshrined in laws and practices that legitimate, constrain, or spawn violence. In French Algeria during the 1860s, the “sleeping baby” controversy arose, becoming a legal and medical dispute that roiled the appellate court in the capital, Algiers. Traditionally many North Africans, both Muslims and Jews, believed that gestation in the womb could be delayed for some years. The advantages to widowed, divorced, or abandoned women and their children are obvious; the sluggish fetus could eventually be declared legitimate, thereby guaranteeing protection and inheritance rights. After much debate, jurists and scientific authorities resoundingly proclaimed sleeping babies a legal fiction, inadmissible to French law. Moreover, the notion of slumbering fetuses in utero exposed the “primitive” and “backward” nature of North African societies. For critics of Islam, beliefs such as this provided justification for dismantling local judicial systems and sociocultural institutions, with pernicious and long-lasting consequences for women.1

French colonialism in in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco (1830–1962) has typically been narrated as a history of invading armies and settlers, rebellions that later generated nationalist movements, and land or resource grabs. Of course this interpretation is wholly accurate, but the story has less frequently been told with consideration of women and gender. Nevertheless, the recent scholarly confluence between empire studies and gender theory has produced significant theoretical advances. We now know that historically, the nation-state and empire were thoroughly imbricated, shifting over time in response to larger processes. Modern imperialism was never uni-directional, radiating out from the metropole , nor did power circulate solely between motherland and colony; peripheries might represent centers at certain historical junctures. Due to complex local negotiations and serendipity, complete domination proved illusory, uneven, and contradictory.2 Comparative analysis reveals that rival empires, such as the Ottoman, British, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), emulated one another in policies, practices, and discourse. The ideology of women as “mothers of the nation” took hold in Ottoman-ruled lands as it had in Europe. Moreover, the official mindset and discourses of imperial promoters should not be taken as “facts on the ground”; much of the rhetoric pouring out of Paris, Marseilles, and Algiers was often that. Local knowledge, allies, contractors, spies, and interpreters mattered.3 In addition, the binary distinction between “colonial overlords” and “colonized natives” is no longer tenable; many in-between subaltern communities flourished or suffered under a formal empire’s overarching canopy. Nevertheless, the distinction between Euro-American settler colonies and other kinds of imperial possessions is significant for North Africa’s many histories.

French Algeria, 1830–1962

Although taken as emblematic of French imperialism, Algeria presents a number of contrasts with British, Dutch, and American colonies, and even with other possessions of La Plus Grande France.4 By 1789, France held second-tier colonial status at best. But the French Revolution ramped up Franco-British imperial conflicts throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Altlantic. In a surprise maneuver, Napoleon Bonaparte landed a revolutionary army in 1798 in Egypt, an Ottoman province. The complex history of how and why France invaded Algeria in July 1830 can be traced to the catastrophic Egyptian campaign, from which Napoleon miraculously emerged a great and much-feared hero. Resounding military defeat and the restoration of the Bourbon Dynasty in 1815 appeared to temper French territorial ambitions overseas. By 1830 bitter domestic struggles over the political meaning of constitutional monarchy meant that a distraction was needed. The expedition to Algiers, an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire, was a temporary measure; the occupation was to be short-lived.

After 1840 the French Army dug into the business of conquest. Algeria’s “pacification” demanded at least fifty years of brutal warfare waged against the majority Muslim and minority Jewish populations.5 Not only did the generals govern northern Algeria for decades until 1870, but the military also generated much of the documentation. One week after Algiers fell to the invaders, the first legislation regulating prostitution in the capital city was enacted to safeguard the health of the thousands of troops under France’s flag.6

From the 1840s onward, military officers attached to the Arab Bureau stationed in villages or pastoral nomadic lands reported on tribal or rural women, portraying them principally as farmers, skilled artisans, or pastoralists. Much to the astonishment of military leaders, some Berber (or Amazigh) women from clans of notables led armed male followers into battle against the French Army. Although they suffered enormously at the hands of troops, Algerian women were not at first manipulated by colonial authorities, as a larger cultural critique of Muslim society.7

North Africa and France: Imperialism, Colonialism, and Women, 1830–1962Click to view larger

Figure 1. “Types Algériens. Famille d’une femme des Ouled Naı̈ls/Algerian Types. Family of a Woman from the Awlad Na’il Tribe.” Created by Neurdein frer̀es sometime between 1860 and 1890, this photograph allegedly shows a Berber from the Awlad Na’il tribe of courtesans with her children. This image illustrates the gendered colonial obsession not only with these women who amassed dowries through sexual commerce but also with female clothing, headdresses, and jewelry.

Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04758.

Nevertheless, in 1840, General Thomas-Robert Bugeaud (1784–1849), who advocated retaining Algeria and ruling by the “sword and the plow,” observed that “the Arabs elude us because they conceal their women from our gaze.”8 This uncharacteristic quip raises a question: was female physical mobility increasingly curtailed due to the presence of thousands of foreign soldiers?

The growing power of imperialism and rapid improvements in the technologies of movement accelerated global population movements during the 19th century. Countless impoverished peasants from the Mediterranean Basin from 1830 onward—Spanish, Italian, Maltese, and French—migrated en masse to North Africa. Uninvited “guests,” these heterogeneous peoples with a dizzying array of national identities gradually became “French” residents, which was critical to the perpetuation of gendered imperial hierarchies. Despite concerted efforts to anchor the newcomers in the Algerian countryside, ironically most Europeans resided in North African cities and towns. Many, although not all, displayed an increasingly aggressive racism toward “indigenous” Muslims and Jews virtually without parallel by the close of the 19th century, the global high-water mark of both imperialism and racism. The polyglot languages spoken and the by members of settler communities and their literary production were generally, but not always, infused with a discourse of violent denigration toward the colonized that mirrored existing policies, laws, and practices. Yet gradations in the ranks of “indigenous subjects” existed and changed over time; some Algerian tribal warriors served with the motley “French” army. Others colluded or collaborated with, or merely accommodated themselves to, the ruling order. Because of the dense settler presence, northern Algeria was legally and administratively attached to France after 1871 under civilian rule; the military administrated the peoples of the vast Saharan regions until independence. With the passage of the Crémieux Decree in 1870, the majority of Algeria’s Jewish population, about 35,000 people, was naturalized, with the exception of Saharan Jews, whose legal status approximated that of Muslims.9 Large zones of legal exceptionalism rendered Algeria a complicated place, and this directly impacted women’s status and lives. Therefore, the country was not, strictly speaking, a colony, which differs in many respects from Protectorates in North Africa, Indo-China, or the mandates awarded to France after World War I in Syria and Lebanon. Once again, despite its exceptionalism, Algeria is paradoxically seen as the template for French colonialism/imperialism worldwide.

North Africa and France: Imperialism, Colonialism, and Women, 1830–1962Click to view larger

Figure 2. Tlemcen, Algeria: Young Moorish woman. This studio print by the photographers Neurdein frer̀es was taken sometime between 1860 and 1890. It is emblematic of a visual and commercial genre fixating upon “native” women that sold thousands of copies.

Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04760.

Among the 19th century’s increasingly numerous travelers and sojourners were missionaries of many persuasions. The fact that Algeria became a settler colony through both state-directed and spontaneous immigration stimulated conversion fervor in this part of the Mediterranean. A global phenomenon, the missionary imperative had first targeted Ottoman Palestine, where competition between English evangelicals and Catholic missions coalesced in the late 18th century. After 1830, the Catholic Church and diverse Protestant, particularly Anglo-American, mission congregations set their sights on North Africa. There they not only aimed to minister to newly relocated Christians but also to proselytize among the “natives” (i.e., Arab and/or Berber Muslims and Jews). As the Jesuits and female members of new or reformed French religious orders, such as the Sisters of Saint Joseph, poured into Algeria and Tunisia, the Maghrib represented a new “front” in the global religious wars. “Native women’s condition” increasingly became a top priority as it was in missionary agendas worldwide; that preoccupation still guides NGO and international “aid” or development work in the 21st century. Thus, Algeria became the “Western question” that both mirrored and intersected with the 19th century’s “Eastern question” over the Ottoman Empire’s future.

In the Kabylia, where a substantial ethnic, but not religious, Berber minority existed, the colonial regime sought to divide Berbers from Arabs through legal, cultural, and other strategies. Here Catholic missionaries, principally the French White Fathers and White Sisters (and Protestant missions, such as the Methodists), achieved limited success in converting Muslims to Christianity, mainly among orphans or social outcasts. They established churches, clinics, orphanages, and schools and founded Catholic villages in the Kabylia composed exclusively of converts who were wed and settled into families and households. One of these converts, Fadhma Amrouche (c. 1882–1967), composed the first autobiography by an Algerian woman, published in 1968. It offers unique documentation not only on settler colonialism as practiced but also on Berber women as cultivators, heads of households, and petitioners harassing colonial officials for redress of grievances.10 If Catholic missionaries, notably female congregations boasting thousands of members, underwrote the expansion of the second French Empire, some never fully subscribed to the colonial project, in large measure due to persistent and by the end of the 19th century mounting anti-clericalism in France.11 Somewhat in contrast to other Euro-American empires, where “men of the cloth” (and later women) were welcomed, many military and civilian authorities in Algeria were hostile to missionary activity for reasons both ideological (as avowed secularists) and tactical; they contended that that conversion would fan the flames of revolt and modern education would encourage insubordination. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, this was an argument advanced by other colonial regimes with majority Muslim populations.

A number of educational missionary projects flourished under the umbrella of France’s empire. With the creation in 1860 of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) headquartered in Paris, reformers targeted North African Jews (and Jews in eastern Europe) employing the French language and schooling as emancipatory tools for “uplifting” families, women, men, and children. The AIU also established centers in precolonial Tunisia and Morocco, where they often prompted local resistance due to their interference in communal affairs, above all in gender relations and norms. Because of its focus upon the family, the AIU collected important data on women and empire.12

As the 19th century progressed, disputes among officials and settlers over colonized women’s status became conflated with another controversy about Muslim sexuality in relation to political rights. Women and their proper education came to the foreground of polemics, situating them in contradictory positions: as preservers of authentic North African cultural traditions, as beacons of modernity within the household, or as obstacles to the adaptation of “Western” forms of family life. Each of these ideological stances unleashed clashes over female education. The deadlock over divergent social visions of Muslim womanhood afforded an excuse to neglect, or even discourage, instruction throughout the colonial period. Indeed, after 1861 colonial officials and their Muslim allies lobbied against state-supported schooling for girls on the grounds of budgetary restraints. Worse, literate women would be unacceptable as wives; some even asserted that education would fill brothels with socially rejected Muslim girls. Once again, the life story of Fadhma Amrouche illustrates these gendered controversies. Arguments against female education were linked to the sexualization of the Algerian woman, particularly the “Arab” woman, a process that was greatly aided by the development of photography. Saharan Berber women, notably the “Daughters of the Awlad Na’il,” were also transformed into tribal “sex workers” and promoted as an international tourist attraction.13

The growing sociocultural and political purchase of the cult of domesticity informed the rhetoric and the resultant policies. Many European women in French North Africa were negatively stereotyped, depending upon period, place, ethnicity, and social class. As always, those traveling alone, without male minders, were deemed morally suspect. For decades into the 19th century, Maltese, Sicilian, and Spanish women were characterized as slovenly, lazy, and prone to sexual vice. Even French nationals, such as Eugénie Allix Luce, who struggled to organize girls’ schooling during the 19th century, quickly encountered and distrust in colonial circles—and that was before it became known that Madame Luce had abandoned her husband and children in France to venture to Algeria.14 Between 1872 and 1927, the number of European residents climbed from 245,000 to 833,000—one of the highest settler-to-native ratios in the world—as Mediterranean immigrants intermarried and produced numerous progeny. During the Third Republic (1870–1940), these “Europeans” assumed a novel collective identity encapsulated by the notion of “We the Algerians.” This ideology maintained that the European Algerians constituted a cultural race distinct from both the innately inferior Muslims and the increasingly degenerate French of the metropole, particularly after the Franco-Prussian defeat in 1870, a debacle that sent more French nationals to the Maghrib. At the same time, the status of Muslim women (and some Arab Jewish women) became increasingly central in European discourse judging the culturally different, subordinate other. The dominant colonial trope about dangerous, masculine, and seditious Islam intersected with a parallel discourse about an unchanging, monolithic religion undergirding all family structures and socio-sexual relations. In the imperial imagination, behind the high whitewashed walls of the “Arab” (often used incorrectly as a gloss to mean “Muslim”) household, women suffered cruel oppression due to Islamic laws and customs.

As the colonial gaze fixated progressively upon native women between 1870 and 1900, Islam was moved by many polemicists in both France and Algeria from the battlefield into the bedroom. This transformation directly impacted the availability of schools for girls, and to a lesser extent for boys. One of the fiercest proponents of the idea of “We the Algerians” was the novelist and writer Louis Bertrand (1866–1941), who raised alarms about racial regeneration and the survival of the French nation. The real enemy was “the Oriental, in particular the Muslim. The Oriental whose perfidious silences were full of hidden meanings, menace and unpredictability.”15 In Bertrand’s world view, religion glossed race, social class, culture, civilization, and ethnicity while legitimating empire and boundaries with their unforgiving racial hierarchies. Nevertheless, these hierarchies proved more elastic or porous than the discourse allowed; by World War I, some Muslim families had not only sent sons to Franco-Arab schools in Algeria but also enrolled them in metropole institutions—which generated more racial panics and fearmongering on the part of extremists like Bertrand, whose real, if unspoken, dread was miscegenation.16

By 1900 sexuality and gender dominated the controversy over granting even limited political rights to French-educated Algerian men. Deployed as a tool for disenfranchisement, women’s depraved status under Islamic law, as interpreted by colonial officials and the settler lobby, refuted the idea that Muslims’ assimilation to France was possible or even desirable—despite incessant vociferous claims about the “civilizing mission.”17 New genres of colonial literature and visual representation fed the debate: popular, often lewd, satirical fiction written in a French Algerian “patois,” pseudo-scientific tracts, and salacious photographs of women posed in sexually suggestive manners (which qualified as pornography, as then defined). The implicit message was that Muslim men should not be accorded limited representation. Their women were not only unfit, ignorant mothers but also whores.18

In stark contrast, after the mid-19th century, some Muslim reformers across the Ottoman Empire argued that Islamic jurisprudence was not immutable for family- or personal-status laws. In 1903, the Algerian Kamal Muhammad ibn Mustafa, a prominent lawyer, composed Les droits de la femme (The Rights of Women), written in the language of the conqueror. Its audiences were liberal metropole French and French-educated Muslims, then pressing for political reforms and expanded schooling for colonial subjects.19 In 1930, the Tunisian jurist Tahar al-Haddad proposed a new reading of female rights under Islam and campaigned to educate women as national mothers; but al-Haddad lost his teaching position at the Zaytuna Mosque-University in Tunis due to an alliance between colonial officials and conservative Muslim clerics. In opposition to Muslim reformers and modernists, the new “race” of (European) Algerians vigorously promoted their vision of an invincible Islamic legal system, unchanging gender norms, and primitive mentalités governing women and family. The religious and “cultural harem” of the Arab household was even widely depicted as a menacing “state within a state.”

Compared to parts of the British Empire or the Dutch East Indies, the construction of French Algeria was as much the forging of a gaze—or spectrum of gazes fixed upon female bodies—as the development of coercive mechanisms for mapping, knowing, and controlling. Moreover, that gaze—its discourses, representations, and the laws that it nurtured—constituted a critical force in the complex cultural politics of French Algeria as well as in Paris’s relations with its unruly African Départements. While elements of this existed in other European empires, nowhere was the Muslim woman represented in this way, and manipulated to this degree, to suit political agendas. Another fundamental difference between British India and French Algeria was that late-19th-century French feminism was not as firmly invested or deeply implicated in the imperial project as were British feminists and the empire. While present in Tunisia and Morocco, the colonial religion, politics, and gender wars in Algeria were the most acute. Nonetheless, since officials, laws, and policies circulated across the French Empire, Algeria served as a vector for laws and administrative practices not only in North Africa but also in Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean. Conversely, transimperial legal and other mechanisms for disinheriting indigenous peoples, for example in the Americas and Australia, were applied in the Maghrib as well.

The French Protectorate in Tunisia (1881–1956)

As the British in Egypt attempted to avoid the mistakes of India, so too French authorities in Tunisia and Morocco sought to eschew the errors of the Algerian imperial experiment. Tunisia was a protectorate, conquered in 1881 by France but never directly ruled by the military, although the army administered its Saharan regions. Moreover, a Tunisian dynasty (the Husaynids, 1705–1956), regarded as legitimate by its subjects, continued on the throne throughout the colonial era.20 Equally significant was that circum-Mediterranean immigration to Tunisia commenced decades before the imposition of the protectorate—in the 1820s. Because of these earlier population displacements, religious or secular educational missionaries established modern schools for boys and girls mainly in the capital city from the 1840s onward. Indeed, a novel experiment in modern learning for Muslim girls was launched in 1900 and bore fruit by the Great War. One of the first academic primary schools for girls within the French Empire, the “School for Muslim Girls,” was financed by both Tunisian Muslims and French liberals. This institution, still extant today, educated not only Tawhida Ben Cheikh (or ibn al-Shaykh, 1909–2010), who later became the first North African female physician, but also, ironically, the spouses of Tunisian nationalists. Thus, the struggle over sexuality, citizenship, and native rights was attenuated due to the country’s different legal and political status; education for Muslim Arab girls was not as highly charged as in Algeria. By the interwar period, colonial elementary schools (called Franco-Arab schools) and AIU Jewish institutions were accessible to some families, mainly in cities. The autobiography of Gladys Adda (1921–2000), a Tunisian Jew from the southern oasis of Gabes, reveals the daily humiliations in the classroom inflicted by European teachers or fellow pupils. Nevertheless, in her case modern learning led to life-long political activism, including a position in the local Communist Party and in associations campaigning for women’s rights. In effect, women like Adda or Amrouche, deemed religious and/or ethnic “minorities” ostensibly on the colonial margins, illustrate the workings of the imperial center.21

The French Protectorate in Morocco (1912–1956)

In 1912, after years of transborder French incursions from Algeria and international wrangling, Morocco was declared a French protectorate; Spain claimed small colonial outposts in the north.22 One fundamental difference distinguishing Morocco from Algeria and Tunisia was that mass settler colonialism came relatively late—only during the interwar period. And the social class of the incoming Europeans mattered; instead of huddled masses from impoverished Mediterranean villages, middle-class and corporate interests took over Morocco’s economic assets. Compared to Algeria, the colonial regime refrained, for the most part, from overt interference in Islamic personal-status law. Indeed, the patriarchal clout of the reigning Muslim dynasty, the `Alawis (1631–present), and of the leaders of the great Arab or Berber lineages was reinforced under Morocco’s first resident-general (1912–1925), General Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey (1854–1934). A staunch monarchist, the general promoted the military as the lead actor in political order, social engineering, and urban planning. Lyautey and his cohort of like-minded administrators sought to keep Morocco “traditional,” untouched by modernity, in part due to lucrative international tourism, but also to quell rising urban nationalism. Christian missionary schooling was discouraged. Lyautey’s model of hypermasculine authoritarianism influenced women’s legal and social status.23 It is hardly surprising that one of the most ambitious projects in any empire worldwide, to construct a controlled, state-owned prostitutes’ city to service the military, was envisioned for the city of Marrakesh. But adamant Moroccan opposition and an outcry from French feminists and international associations halted plans for this urban brothel. Nonetheless, the Casablanca red-light district, the “Bousbir,” became a sex attraction of international notoriety and a source of scandal that mobilized nationalists across the Maghrib.24

Moroccans viewed these political, military, and sexual affronts not only as assaults upon an Islamic state and largely Muslim population but also as an “epistemological invasion, a clash of sovereignties inside a human body that is at once the field of battle and its prize.”25 From the 19th century onward, fierce medical and cultural controversy raged over how to acclimatize European settlers to North Africa, and whether—and ultimately how—to assimilate Muslims to France; these debates in part spawned a new body of knowledge.26 The emerging discipline of anthropology as practiced in France led to research, notably in Berber regions of Algeria to investigate “premodern” peoples and societies; Germaine Tillion (1907–2008) was one of the first professionally trained female anthropologists to undertake field studies of rural and tribal women’s social worlds.27 Ultimately, Morocco became the site par excellence for the discipline. The prestigious institute in Rabat, Le Centre Jacques-Berque, named after a colonial officer and anthropologist, characterizes the country today as “Le Maroc, terre d’élection de l’anthropologie.”28

North Africa and France: Imperialism, Colonialism, and Women, 1830–1962Click to view larger

Figure 3. Exposition d’art Marocain/Exhibition of Moroccan Art. This promotional poster was produced in Rabat, Morocco, by the French artist Joseph Néziere in 1917. Part of a promotional campaign to fund the war effort, the image pairs a wounded native soldier in French colonial uniform with a “traditional” artisan painting a ceramic bowl.

Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Divisions, LC-USZC2-4077.

Nonetheless, France’s divide-and-conquer strategy politicized Islamic family law by opposing it to Berber “customary” law. Since the large Berber minority (over 30 percent of the total population) was regarded as more amenable to the civilizing mission, colonial officials in Morocco sought to drive a wedge between Arabs and Berbers (as in Algeria). Thus the Moroccan Berber woman (as her sister, the Algerian Kabyle woman) was deemed worthy of greater respect, because she displayed greater personal morality than her degraded, eroticized Arab sister. Part of a divide-and-rule strategy used in other empires worldwide, the essentialization of the Berber woman also meant that some Berber peoples were positioned higher along the evolutionary scale than Arabs. Once again the Muslim (often conflated with “Arab”) woman was deployed as a marker of racial and cultural difference, and manipulated to delineate different Muslim groups. Plagued by revolts, including the Rif War during the interwar period, the protectorate stayed under the tight administrative grip of France’s military, which meant that little was done to educate native girls compared to in Tunisia and Algeria.29 With independence in 1956, female literacy was comparatively the lowest in the Maghrib and remains so into the 21st century.

The Maghrib between and during World Wars, 1914–1954

By 1914, European settlers possessed the most fertile and well-watered lands of North Africa, while local farmers scratched out livings on plots too small or arid for household subsistence. In northern areas, indigenous wage laborers often worked on agricultural estates that had once belonged to their kinsmen. Decades of military conquest severely disrupted village and peasant economies; the decline of pastoralism as a mode of resource extraction on arid lands brought ecological devastation. Colonial powers discouraged industrialization because North Africa served as a source of agrarian products (wheat, olive oil, citrus), of mineral wealth (phosphates and iron ore), or as markets for European goods. By the late 19th century, the supreme irony for the Algerian economy, notably in the western Oran province, was the heavily subsidized viticulture industry. One of the country’s largest exports was wine—and to France at that! The disruptive impact that these economic, financial, and environmental transformations exerted upon women as producers has not been sufficiently examined.30

Just prior to WW I, severe labor shortages in France were offset by recruiting Algerian men to work in factories; as “strike breakers,” they replaced Italian laborers whose syndicalist demands for higher wages rendered them unwelcome. Most importantly, with the outbreak of war in 1914, North African (and West African) soldiers were rounded up and dispatched to the metropole to fight in the trenches; over 200,000 men, mainly conscripts, were mobilized. Chris Rominger’s in-progress research into wounded Maghribi soldiers confined to special “Muslim hospitals” in France demonstrates the centrality of women and gender. In effect, the presence of large numbers of “nonwhite” colonial soldiers in cities triggered sexual panics about the security and safety of French women.31

North Africa and France: Imperialism, Colonialism, and Women, 1830–1962Click to view larger

Figure 4. “At Champigny—Giving Wine to Algerian Troops.” This photograph taken between 1914 and 1915 shows French civilians providing wine to North African soldiers as their troop train moved through the southeastern suburbs of Paris to the front.

Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Divisios, LC-DIG-ggbain-17044.

Colonized women had become the measure of all things by World War I, manipulated as political and ideological symbols for debating political identity, religio-cultural authenticity, moral integrity, and the future of empire. They were thus subject to a double patriarchy, colonial and indigenous. However, this did not mean that women were politically passive nor that they lacked agency. Many mothers or wives of conscripted soldiers made claims against the French state based upon military service. Moreover, the Great War encouraged nationalist movements across the globe. Despite the fact that France ruled over the three contiguous countries, nationalism as ideology and political movement assumed diverse forms because of the torque of precolonial history, the nature of traditional North African states, and the fact that the region represented a migratory frontier. Nationalists sought inspiration from Europe and the Ottoman Empire, where Islamic reform had long existed and pan-Arabism coalesced with Italy’s 1912 invasion of Libya. However, the stance of party leaders regarding women’s legal and social status in relation to the imagined nation differed. Low rates of female literacy, estimated at a mere 1–2 percent at best, limited access to nationalist leadership positions. So much for the civilizing mission.

During the interwar period (1918–1940), North Africa suffered grievously from the Great Depression. The pauperization of the native population, the crisis in subsistence agriculture, and the erosion of traditional manufacturing combined with rapidly accelerating birth rates due to modest health facilities triggered large-scale migrations to urban areas. This in turn meant that more women and families resided in bidonvilles (shantytowns) surrounding cities like Algiers, Casablanca, and Tunis that had earlier boasted majority European populations. The global economic downswing produced widespread unemployment, misery, and political unrest, culminating in mass populist demands for independence in North African cities and the countryside. The return of demobilized soldiers from Europe also radicalized political activism. Women’s associations sprang up as more girls had access to schooling. The North African Communist Party, whose significance, particularly for Jews, was ignored until recently, energized burgeoning syndicalist organizations.32 North African youth studying in French institutions organized student unions, newspapers, and street demonstrations that linked the metropole with its trans-Mediterranean colonies. For example, during the 1930 international Catholic Eucharistic Congress convened in Carthage, which publicly excoriated Islam, students in France generated international opposition to the event. In Morocco, the Berber Zahir (decree) of May 1930, a colossal misstep, divided Berbers from Arabs through legal “reforms,” confirming suspicions that Islam was under siege. Indeed, Muslim nationalist leaders in Egypt and Syria condemned Rabat’s policies. By the late 1930s, France had imposed martial law upon the Maghrib.

France’s defeat and occupation by Nazi Germany in1940 brought the collapse of the Third Republic and the establishment of Vichy colonial regimes in North Africa. Once again, young Muslim men were conscripted for the war effort, and requisitions and rationing wreaked havoc for families; once again, women protested to colonial officials.33 In October 1940, the first anti-Jewish statute was passed, legally defining Jews residing not only in France but also in Algeria by “race,” according to the religion of their grandparents. Algerian Jews were forbidden from holding government positions, teaching in secular schools, or serving in the military; soon Jewish property was seized. Because they were legally subjects of the Tunisian dynasty and Moroccan sultans, Jewish communities fared better under the protectorates, but even there some local Vichy authorities began restricting education for Jewish children.34

Launched in November 1942, Operation Torch landed Allied armies in Morocco and Algeria. Anglo-American forces set up command headquarters in Algiers and Rabat and were regarded by North Africans as agents of emancipation. Both Axis and Allied radio stations broadcast Arabic-language programs promising liberation for colonial peoples. In 1942 and 1943, fierce battles ensued between Allied armies and German and Italian forces devastated Libya and Tunisia. By 1943, the Vichy regimes lay in ruins, and anti-Jewish racial laws were eventually repudiated. Events in the Middle East fed anticolonial fervor in North Africa. Charles de Gaulle’s provisional government in exile refused nationalist demands in Syria and Lebanon; independence for the mandates only came in 1945 after bloodshed and British interventions against its own ally, France.

Still under-researched is the war’s impact upon women of different social, religious, or ethnic backgrounds. Tunisia suffered the most severe destruction due to relentless aerial bombardments that displaced large numbers of civilians. Some women used the disorder of war to challenge gender norms. In Cherifa, Bouzid, a mother and educated Muslim of mixed Tunisian-Algerian parentage, resolved to teach primary school, despite family opposition. Even worse, she scandalized the community by riding a bike in public to work, something no woman dared do in this period; but she did take care to dress primly in a black veil. Small-scale rebellions by women call for further historical investigation because they expose much wider sociopolitical ruptures.35 World War II represented the coup de grace for France’s empire not only in North Africa or the Middle East but also worldwide by galvanizing diverse nationalist movements. Yet with “peace” in 1945, colonial officials and settler lobbies naively assumed that the future was “business as usual”—until massive popular riots broke out in Setif and elsewhere in Algeria on May 8.

During a largely peaceful independence demonstration in this market town west of Constantine, local colonial police fired indiscriminately on crowds of women, , and children. The massacre inspired retaliatory violence against Europeans, resulting in over a hundred deaths. French authorities and European vigilantes struck back, killing of Algerians by the thousands, although the causality estimates remain contested even today. Many Algerian women who were coming of age then trace their political activism to the Setif uprisings, which marked a watershed in Franco–Algerian relations.36 It is indisputable that nationalist movements forged novel spaces for North African women (and those across the globe) in the streets, the press, schools, and political associations. Moreover, the ideology of the female-gendered nation and national motherhood represented a critical expression of anticolonialism. In North Africa and Egypt, the increasingly popular notion of the “new Arab woman” afforded opportunities for improving women’s social status through revisions or rereadings of Islamic family law. And earlier opponents of female education who had opined that the classroom would morally corrupt girls now promoted the literate mother as household teacher for the next generation. At the same time, the greatly expanded regulatory reach of the modern state not only brought women (whether colonized or not) ever more firmly under state patriarchal control but also widened the perceived gap between the feminine “traditional” and “modern.” Scholarly literature devoted to these largely male-led struggles have assumed that women embraced nationalism in the same way as their menfolk, which was not the case. Class, religion, generation, region, and ethnicity influenced female involvement in mobilization. The gendered nature of diverse hopes and dreams for the future remain largely unexplored.37 Nevertheless, women during times of upheaval enjoyed greater maneuverability because of the gendered assumption that they were by nature apolitical. This generally held belief conferred tactical advantage, above all, in Algeria from 1954 to 1962.38

In May 1954 the French Army suffered a stunning defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, signaling the end of France’s empire in Southeast Asia. The debacle constituted a watershed in the annals of decolonization because a non-European, largely guerrilla operation had overwhelmed a mighty Western power. This lesson was not lost on North Africans. As Zohra Drif (1934–), then enrolled in a French secondary school, recalled in her recent memoir, “France was not invincible—the Indochinese had just proven it.” On All Saints Day, November 1, 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) coordinated a series of attacks across Algeria, targeting symbols of colonial rule. The French Army, Air Force, and Special Forces hit back hard.39

From 1954 until 1962, one of Africa’s cruelest colonial wars unfolded. A key factor in France’s resistance to granting independence was the discovery of massive fossil-fuel deposits in the Sahara. The war claimed nearly a million lives during eight years of guerrilla and conventional combat as well as causing communal civilian atrocities.40 Between 1954 and 1962, thee million displaced Algerians were interned in military concentration camps and 8,000 villages leveled. Moreover, tens of thousands of Algerian refugees, mainly women and children, fled across the borders to Morocco and above all Tunisia. The internationally acclaimed writer Assia Djebar (1936–2015) left France and her university studies to reside in Tunis, where she conducted interviews with refugees encamped along the borders, publicizing their plight. In Africa, France employed the techniques of World War II European Fascism—concentration camps and extrajudicial killings—not only in Algeria but also in Tunisia.41

During the horrific conflict, North African women proved key as armed militants in cities, guerrillas in the countryside, couriers, and medical and support staff. Djamila Bouhired (1935–), Djamila Boupacha (1938–), Zohra Drif, and Louisette Ighilahriz (1936–), as well as other female FLN members, played militant roles during the battle for Algiers, which unfolded in September of 1956 and raged until 1957. Dressed as Europeans, these three women placed concealed bombs in European neighborhoods of Algiers. Drif’s explosive killed three civilians in the popular Milk Bar Café; Bouhired’s bomb failed to detonate. Holed up with other militants in the casbah during 1957 to evade the police, Drif recalls that they passed the time imagining “the radiant future that doubtlessly awaited us under the sun of independence.”42 The Italian film producer Gillo Pontecorvo later memorialized Drif’s part in these dramatic events in his 1966 film The Battle of Algiers, deemed one of the most politically influential films in cinematic history. Boupacha and Bouhired were arrested, imprisoned, and subjected to appalling torture; the former was sentenced to death by the guillotine after a trial deemed a “travesty of justice,” but international outcry commuted the sentence.43 The military tribunal of Algiers condemned Drif to twenty years hard labor for terrorism; she was incarcerated in the women’s section of the notorious Barbarossa Prison in Algiers and then served time in France.44 Across the frontiers in Morocco and Tunisia, women collected funds and supplies, and provided medical assistance to wounded FLN fighters who clandestinely passed over the borders for hospital treatment. Women penned petitions to the chamber of deputies in Paris and to international bodies charging France with human-rights violations.

On March 18, 1962, in Évian-les-Bains, the Évian Accords were signed between France and the members of the provisional government of the Algerian Republic, the government-in-exile of FLN; no female members were present at the negotiating table. A formal ceasefire was proclaimed the next day, and referendums held in France and Algeria voted overwhelmingly for independence, proclaimed on July 3. For several years prior, many settlers began fleeing Algeria, and by 1962 a wholesale exodus of nearly a million Europeans occurred. Denounced as collaborators, Muslims serving as auxiliaries (harkis) with French forces also fled, when possible; those unfortunates who could not were largely massacred by their fellow citizens—a pattern seen as Western empires collapsed worldwide in the wake of World War II. Caught among French colonialism, Zionism, and Arab nationalism, many Algerian Jews emigrated en masse, either to France or to the newly proclaimed state of Israel. Negotiated peace did not usher in harmony: far from it.

Under the first president, Ahmad Ben Bella (1962–1965), Algeria was touted as the revolutionary capital of Third Worldism.45 Yet domestic conditions—death, disease, displaced persons, famine, and utter administrative chaos—discouraged experiments in the socioreligious core of postcolonial Algeria: family, women, law, and gender relations. Not surprisingly, the intractable problem of appropriate cultural models arose for Algerian women after 1962. Frantz Fanon (1925–1961), the Francophone Martinique-born psychiatrist and writer, participated in the Algerian struggle for independence, writing passionately and compellingly about racism in his 1961 book, The Wretched of the Earth.46 Despite his original insights into colonial violence, Fanon erred when he predicted that a new social order would arise from the dreadful human carnage, one in which women and men would be equal. The colonial era began and ended with great violence. During the war, thousands of Algerian women and girls suffered e systematic rape torture by the French military. And FLN/ALN fighters committed atrocities, sexual and otherwise, against European women or females regarded as the “enemy.” For Algeria and France, the collective trauma of rampant sexual violence lay shrouded in silence, muted until the 1990s.47

The FLN ideology of cultural authenticity cast women and their bodies as the keepers of traditions uncorrupted by colonialism. As a consequence, Algerian political and religious leaders have been until very recently notoriously resistant to demands for female emancipation. After 1962, the family code represented the main battleground over the status and rights of women. Sharply divided were citizens who desired that the family code reflect secular law and those who insisted that family structures conform to Islamic legal and social principles. Street demonstrations in 1981 that included female members of the National People’s Assembly, who opposed the specter of even more restrictions on women’s citizenship, shocked the nation. Because of this some favorable revisions were legislated in 1984, but women’s legal status meant that their sole legitimate social positions were as daughters, mothers, or wives.

Then the “dark years” erupted—the civil wars of the 1990s that pitted militant Islamists against the FLN and the army, with the vast majority of the population trapped in the middle of spiraling violence.48 Minor adjustments came with the 2005 family code; in 2011, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that the cessation of the state of emergency could render more improvements to the family code conceivable. Yet the Arab Spring has since put the brakes on radical social transformation. From her self-imposed exiles in France and in the United States, the writer Assia Djebar, and numerous Algerian activists in the huge transnational diaspora, have harshly chastised male leadership for their obstruction of female citizenship rights.

North Africa and France: Imperialism, Colonialism, and Women, 1830–1962Click to view larger

Figure 5. A young woman viewing the demonstration during Tunisian National Women’s Day, May 1, 2012. This photograph was taken after the outbreak of the Tunisian uprisings against the president and dictator, Ben `Ali, in December of 2011. These events in Tunisia sparked mass collective protest across North Africa and the Arab world. Watching the throngs below on the Avenue Bourguiba in downtown Tunis, the protestor sports a tee-shirt with the Arabic “`Isyan,” which means sedition, disobedience, and revolt.

Photo by scossargilbert, Creative Commons License, CC BY 2.0.

The protracted tragedy that was colonial (and independent) Algeria has tended to divert attention from women and politics in the rest of North Africa. After several years of intense hostilities, France accorded independence to Tunisia and Morocco in 1956 to “keep Algeria French.” But as early as 1947, an unheard-of incident occurred in Morocco. Princess Lalla Aicha (1930–2011), the eldest daughter of the reigning sultan, Mohammed V (reigned 1927–1953; king 1957–1961) delivered a radio broadcast from Tangiers (with her father’s blessing) in which she called upon Moroccan women to observe their duties to king and country and fulfill obligations as mothers and wives. French officials immediately condemned her speech as subversive. One year after independence, Aicha was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, in November 1957. In Morocco’s struggle during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, women from different social classes fought colonialism not only as family members but also as defiant militants. But with independence, their daring actions were largely erased from nationalist accounts; extensive oral interviews conducted during the 1990s finally shed light on their contributions.49 Feminists, such as Fatima Mernissi and Fatima Sadiqi, have long campaigned for profound changes in the Mudawana or family and personal-status code that governs marriage, polygamy, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. In 2004, the new king, Muhammad VI, ordered substantial revisions that were enshrined in the 2011 constitution. But many Moroccans are unsatisfied because the legislation was imposed in an undemocratic manner—from above—and the male-dominated judiciary is often reluctant to actually implement the new laws.50

With Tunisia’s independence came a watershed. In August 1956, interim president Habib Bourguiba (1903–2000) announced plans for a shockingly innovative Code of Personal Status (CPS), the most progressive family law in North Africa and the Middle East (with the exception of Turkey). It abolished polygamy and repudiation, instituted judicial divorce, and declared legal equality of the sexes; religious or sharia courts were abolished. In following decades, the CPS was continuously amended to encompass such gendered ideals as “equal pay for equal work.” The initial political motivations for, and collective social response to, the CPS were extremely complex. Of significance, however, is that as soon as the CPS was legislated, Bourguiba organized by decree the National Union of Tunisian Women (l’Union Nationale de la Femme Tunisienne), forcefully “merging” other autonomous women’s associations into this union, which was folded into the single party: the Neo-Dustur. State feminism was launched, enduring well into the presidency of Bourguiba’s successor, Zine El Abidine Ben `Ali (r. 1987–2011). Only in the late 1980s did a new generation of feminists dare critique the ruling party to demand true democracy and civil-society reforms, including the right to organize. However, a cruel paradox arose. The colonial “law of associations” enacted by the French protectorate in the early 1900s continued in force; state recognition was required.51

Bourguiba, and his successor Ben ‘Ali, manipulated female rights as a political hedge fund against national, and above all international, accusations of human-rights abuse. As Tunisian feminists have long observed, party elites excelled at disseminating propaganda touting the relatively (and undeniably) better legal status of women with soothing messages about modernity directed at Western audiences. Although August 13th is a national holiday celebrating the passage of the CPS, not all citizens, notably the Islamic parties, regarded this revolutionary legislation as a pillar of the “Tunisian personality.”52 Tunisia incubated the “Arab uprisings” late in 2010, and President Ben Ali was forced out of the country in January 2011. Women assumed visible and vocal leadership of populist urban, provincial, and rural activism leading to the dictator’s demise. In subsequent debates over the draft of the new constitution, Article 28 governing women’s status proved the most contentious. Religion as lived, gender, citizenship, and civil society were intertwined. But the final Constitution ratified on January 2014 reaffirmed progressive guarantees of equal rights for all. In 2015, an alliance of Tunisian workers, employers, lawyers, and politicians won the Nobel Peace Prize.53 Indeed, some of the historical reasons for Tunisia’s somewhat unique political and cultural stance on women, society, and human rights might paradoxically date back to its precolonial and colonial eras.

Historiography, Archives, and Primary Sources

As Ellen Amster concludes in her anthropological research, “Gender exposes the messiness of medicine as applied colonial practice.”54 We can add that gender lays bare not only the violence but also the clutter, confusion, and chaos of empire in general. Taking stock of the past and present, the question arises: how does earlier historiography differ from emerging trends today?55 As noted above, the current swell of scholarly interest in women, gender, and empire has caused previously distinct historical subfields to converge. Building on work by Ann-Laura Stoler, the edited volume Western Women and Imperialism (1992) represented a milestone.56 Feminist scholars trained primarily in the histories of Africa or the Middle East—on the “colonized” side of the equation—argued that not only was it imperative to foreground “colonized” women, but also “those others” neatly categorized as “European” or “Western” had to figure in the analysis. This realization prompted scholars to include in the narrative individuals such as the French suffragist Hubertine Auclert (1848–1914), who resided in North Africa and waged a vociferous propaganda campaign in Paris on behalf of Muslim women’s education, while simultaneously pressing for female suffrage in France. Inspired by Strobel and Chaudhuri, another edited volume, Domesticating the Empire (1998), pressed researchers, until then mainly concentrated on the British Empire, to consider other imperial sites. Moreover, the policies and practices shaping women’s lived experiences in the colonies could not be grasped through a single national-imperial lens or narrative. Finally, earlier research on North African women, whether Muslim or Jewish, Berber or Arab, located them primarily within the frame of the colonial state, severing the three Maghribi countries from one another and the French Empire from transnational processes across Europe, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.

The surge of research on women in France’s North African Empire and elsewhere, particularly in English, has transformed the field, but ironically the topic has had less influence on the heart of that now-defunct empire.57 Rebecca Rogers cogently unravels the institutional structures that continue to marginalize disciplines such as women’s and gender studies in French academia in general and thus in colonial histories.58 Yet this is currently changing due to the unrelenting efforts of scholars such as Rogers, Christelle Taraud, Emmanuelle Saada, Raphaëlle Branche, and many others.

Scholarship on girls’ education in the late Ottoman Empire offers promising terrain for recuperating women’s lives, voices, and unpublished or little-known memoirs.59 Historians pose novel questions and deploy fresh approaches, notably gender theory, in studies that are simultaneously institutional, biographical, ethnographic, and micro-historical. However, the very notion of “colonial schooling” demands problematizing. It suggests that girls’ encounters with the modern classroom are undifferentiated and ignores the fact that European-established institutions of female learning evolved over time into something new.

It is axiomatic that educational institutions were fundamental to modernity’s disciplinary order of things. North African writers, such as Albert Memmi (1920–) and Leila Abouzeid (1950–), have poignantly explored the indignities suffered in French schools. However, recent research shows that for girls, the classroom represented a more ambiguous social space than previously thought. Yet for many young women, learning even in colonial and/or missionary institutions might prove “liberating” because neighborhood schools came to represent a legitimate space for girls—one that was attached to, but outside of, the patriarchal household. Moreover, “home schooling” from the precolonial period fed into colonial schools because cultural norms for socializing children persisted—and even informed local French instructional methods. Of course, class, religious identity, region, and generation were critical.

Daily encounters inside or outside of classrooms could generate new, and even positive, social configurations, although under widely divergent circumstances. Individual women, mothers and daughters, and fathers at specific junctures seized opportunities for personal and family advancement in colonial institutions; indeed, at times they reshaped the curricula to suit local mores and needs. To reduce educational choice to mere colonial “co-optation” is to deny agency in the at times difficult decision to send daughters, such as Amrouche, Adda, and Djebar, “outside” the home. Therefore, the disciplinary processes associated with girls’ modern schooling emerge as historically contingent, less linear, and more complicated when subjected to gender analysis. Colonial education was neither monolithic nor hegemonic.

This is not to deny the racial and cultural affronts enmeshed in the intimate processes of learning and literacy within the context of settler colonialism. The ostensibly nonviolent petty violations of everyday life calls for deep study. Indeed, “racial profiling” in the classroom, evoked by so many North Africans, represents an alternative venue for understanding violence and a method for recuperating the mental maps of those unsatisfactorily labeled “colonized.” The Tunisian writer, activist, and artist Dorra Bouzid (1936–) obtained degrees from first the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Tunis and subsequently the School of Pharmacy in Paris during the 1950s. When asked about her cultural and political relationship to France, she replied, “we were opposed to racism and colonialism, not to Europe or the West.”60 In Bouzid’s own mental universe, she did not regard herself as “colonized”; and she was a nationalist but very much in her own fashion.

The logic, essence, and intimacy of that dark matter in human affairs, so feebly named “violence,” is excess, and excess informed all empires. Marnia Lazreq was among the first to study gendered violence and its destructive silences in her native Algeria and subsequently in comparative global perspective.61 Renewed historical attentiveness to “colonial violence” tends to focus on big conflagrations, like the Algerian War (1954–1962), about which we know much more in the 21st century. And if the intrinsically gendered nature of colonialism and violence has been acknowledged, gender theory as a central framing concept has moved onto scholarly radars.62 Neil McMaster’s “The Silent Native” is an ethnographic examination of how ordinary people dodged or coped with daily brutality, before and during the Algerian conflict, through a sustained retreat into “social autism,” which, he convincingly argues, shapes politics and community in Algeria today. What about violence outside of the terrible embrace of civil conflict and warfare and sexuality in situations of power asymmetry? Owen White’s “Conquest and Cohabitation” applied gender theory to the lives of “native women” as domestic partners in French military outposts where these arrangements were dismissively characterized as mariage à la mode du pays. Despite the familiar problem of sources, White’s study brings us closer to desire, intimacy, and possible emotive meanings for women in these relationships.63 Finally, and paradoxically, superstars like Assia Djebar, or venerated female FLN combatants such as Djamila Bouhired (1935–), have become iconic figures in chronicles of the struggle for independence. At times, their elevated status overshadows the contributions of less well-known, “ordinary” women who engaged in daily contests with colonial police, officials, landlords, and fellow countrymen to achieve a dignified existence.64

A striking illustration is the Tunisian physician Tawhida Ben Cheikh, mentioned briefly above, who earned a degree at the Faculté de Médecine in Paris in 1936. Yet she, as a Muslim, dared not seek a medical post in Tunis at the French public hospitals; instead she established one of the first private family-planning clinics for poor women during the interwar period. Despite the fact that an NGO “Association Tawhida Ben Cheikh pour l’aide médicale” exists in Tunis today, she is rarely mentioned in conventional histories of modern North Africa. If women’s healthcare or reproductive rights are even addressed, the Ford Foundation’s highly “successful” birth-control program in Tunisia during the 1960s and 1970s receives the accolades. Moreover, Dr. Ben Cheikh publicly condemned French authorities in 1952 after they bombed a Tunisian village. After 1956, she remained committed to the nation but, on her own terms and out of principle, refused plum ministerial posts in the Tunisian Republic.65

Why do individuals such as these make cameo appearances at best in “neocolonial studies”? The nuanced complexities of women’s relationships with the shifting configurations of dual patriarchy explain, in part, their absence; they are particularly problematic for the nationalists’ canonical historiography, a story of heroic resistors versus foreign imperialists. Another snare in the historiography is that too much weight has been attributed to discourse—what male leaders claimed in word or in print—and not enough about “facts on the ground.” Women’s life trajectories present a “dare” to historians of empire to imagine a larger range of sources to investigate other spaces and places—outside the classroom, the brothel, and nationalist movements: women as farmers, herders, resource extractors, and innovators or conservers of agrarian science.66 Some examples include female laborers in colonial farms, artisans’ workshops, and in raw-material extraction industries (phosphate mines); artists and performers; or the “ignorant women” who safeguarded and transmitted healing and reproductive expertise.67 Currently there is growing scholarly interest into bio-politics—research on the body, power, and gender--within the larger envelope of imperialism—which represents an important and welcome intellectual trend.

An illustration of the evidence produced by this new academic interest is the fact that during the Protectorate, Moroccan female healers inspired contempt and sowed panic in the French medical establishment.68 Not only did they enjoy intimate access to women and households but they also claimed unique knowledge situated at the instable juncture of, law, politics, and the body. In the end, politics, not “medical realities,” forged the practices and theories of colonial hygiene.

A final observation concerns how historians from North Africa envision, approach, and write their own past. At the risk of generalization, Tunisian scholars were among the first to rewrite national narratives to accommodate women of whatever background as well as religious minorities, mainly North African Jews. In large measure, this somewhat unusual receptivity to alternative histories is perhaps due to the fact that Tunisia’s geocultural location in the Mediterranean has long represented a place where “worlds met.” More recently, Moroccan scholars, backed by the state, have rekindled national interest in Jewish communities now departed but whose numbers were the highest in the Maghrib until World War II and the 1948 establishment of Israel. In addition, historians there are currently revising Morocco’s colonial moment.69

In conclusion, as is true for Catholic female missionaries who fashioned the French Empire in unacknowledged ways, North African women’s colonial past remains semi-concealed. And much more scrutiny needs to be focused upon the tangled, long-drawn-out processes known as “decolonization.”70 The task at hand is less to push more heroines to the fore than to understand more concretely how gender informed daily lives, extraordinary occurrences, or the banal historical realities of settler colonialism. These are the most glaring conceptual blind spots, I would argue, in current research on modern imperialism, whether for North Africa or elsewhere. Cultural histories of the French Empire proliferate, but some continue to trail after Europeans, with a stock cast of North Africans, usually male, added to the mix. This last point raises the issue of sources.

Primary Sources: Colonial and Military

The 132 years of French rule produced a staggering corpus of documents, scattered across North Africa, France, Europe, and elsewhere. Many records and even monuments, such as hefty statues of famous generals, were repatriated helter-skelter, often during warfare or the tumultuous transition to independence; they eventually came to rest in different repositories. Moreover, many are not, strictly speaking, state and/or colonial sources: voluminous proceedings of scientific conferences; scholarly investigations; anthropological, medical, and geographical reports; newspapers; or the huge corpus of literary output, including lewd pulp fiction and novels—subsumed under the rubric of “Orientalism.” Photography, art, visual and material culture, and monumental and built environments also constitute sources.

The bulk of repatriated colonial records on Algeria is housed in Aix-en-Provence at the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer (ANOM), which principally contains the histories of colonies (such as Algeria and Senegal). The protectorate archives (Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, etc.) eventually found a home in Nantes, at the Centre des Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes (CADN) in southwestern France. Thus, colonial documentation for French North Africa has been spatially severed and lodged in archives across France—Paris, Aix, and Nantes. This has rendered following people, stories, and processes that traversed the region’s porous borders problematic. After 1962, the mass of repatriated documents overwhelmed archival resources so that massive series of files from, for example, the 19th or early 20th century might only have been fairly recently declassified. How documentation was unearthed to narrate a North African women’s lives provides an illustration. During the 1990s, the ANOM declassified files from the 1880s and 1890s—a century later. Tucked away in a dossier labeled unpromisingly “Cultes Musulmanes” was a fragment of the story of Zaynab bint Shaykh Muhammad (c. 1850–1904), a living saint and notable who proved a most formidable opponent for colonial authorities. However incomplete, her biography demonstrated that Muslim women wielded sacred and profane power.

The matter of language is fundamental but can only be briefly addressed. While most of the documents in ANOM and CADN are in French, many are in various forms of Arabic and Judeo-Arabic, or European languages. These elements—in addition to methods of cataloguing that obscure the existence of data on women—have conspired to complicate research. Thus, the challenges posed by France’s colonial archive are greater than those associated with British imperial records, mainly housed in Kew Garden outside of London. As is true for British India, substantially more is known about European women’s myriad engagements in overseas empire—as settlers, travelers, missionaries, or teachers—than about colonial female subjects. In part, the sheer mass of colonial archives has obscured native women’s lives and voices, particularly when combined with high rates of illiteracy, whether in French or Arabic, and the fact that many Berber languages were not written until the 19th century. Complicating the linguistic issue is that some records were composed in various local Arabic dialects that have not been extensively used. During the past decade or more, historians and social scientists have begun to redress the imbalance.

Although not strictly speaking only a “colonial repository,” the army archives, mainly housed in the Château de Vincennes in Paris, represents a historical treasure trove of data on women and empire. Patricia M. E. Lorcin’s path-breaking work on colonial racism and identities in Algeria and Christelle Taraud’s stunning 2003 study of colonial prostitution across North Africa confirmed the centrality of military archives.71 These same military records revealed the dark, muted secrets of colonial sexual violence. Researchers frequently overlook naval records archived around France, but they too afford rich material on women and gender wherever in the world French vessels were put into port, including the critical matter of slavery and enslaved persons in the Mediterranean and globally.

The fact that these archives have been transported here and there from the 1950s onward, and in many cases only belatedly deposited, has resulted in the loss of material. Extremely important protectorate records still languish today in the Tunisian and Moroccan National Archives, including the Royal Archives of the Moroccan state (in Tunis and Rabat). Many local records remain in Algeria—for example, colonial municipal documents still in situ in cities like Constantine or Oran, and the National Archives in Algiers. These were not repatriated because in the scramble to exit an empire doomed, officials were forced to engage in documentary triage. The most critical, or embarrassing, files—police, intelligence, surveillance, high politics, and finances, and so on—were repatriated the most rapidly—given first-place tickets on the boats to Marseille. Records, for example, on the politically charged Italian schools in Tunisia were deemed inconsequential—after all, Italy had just been defeated in WWII: why bother? There they remain to this day.

Abandoned during the 1950s as officials beat a hasty retreat to France or moved across the border to fight in Algeria is a sous-série entitled “Gens Suspects” (“Suspect People”) that came to rest in the Tunisian National Archives., Throughout the Maghrib on the eve of and during World War I, French administrators communicated in order to assemble several thousand dossiers on border crossers, on named individuals, traveling east to west. The files tracked Muslim “agitators” from the Ottoman Empire, nationalists of all stripes, and foreigners deemed enemies of France. But they also comprise tidbits on people without apparent political importance but who, nevertheless, were seen as socially hazardous or merely intriguing, due to their professions: female entertainers from Egypt, or women engaged in espionage. People on the move were swept up in the records, and it seems that everyone was suspect, and not just the usual suspects.

Taken as a corpus, the dossiers translate the apprehensions and anxieties, prejudices and predilections, boredom and blind spots of colonial officials; they also hint at the identities of “native” informants—and their local rivals and vendettas. They divulge urban spaces regarded as prone to subversive activities, such as prostitutes’ quarters, markets, ports, and cafes, or simply places where the extremely heterogeneous peoples of North African cities went about their daily business. In short, the dossiers are as much about the mental maps of colonizer, colonized, and a whole lot of other folks as they are about gens suspects.

Along those lines, colonial censuses, carried out in Algeria from the 19th century onward, and in 1911 for Tunisia, are vital sources of information that have scarcely been studied. Finally, the archives of the precolonial Maghribi states contain important data, although here the issue of language training in Arabic and Turkish arises. Yet records in Tunis or Rabat, or those in provincial cities that have hardly been touched, yield abundant documentation on women and gender written in European languages—petitions, grievance letters, and so on. As always, the savvy historian must be ever alert for elusive and unimagined sources in unlikely places.

Current historical research on women and gender in French North Africa focuses more on Algeria and privileges the CAOM and Parisian collections. Yet the protectorate archives for Tunisia and Morocco—whether in Nantes or still in the Maghrib—represent rich sources that now young scholars are consulting. As Todd Shepard has recently detailed, the status of colonial documents deported—banished—to the metropole has been the subject of acrimonious disputes between the three North African governments and France for decades.72

Missionary Archives and European Settler Sources

It used to be that historians of the modern Middle East, North Africa, and Islam undervalued mission records, whether Catholic, Anglo-American Protestant, or Evangelical, as a credible source because of their Eurocentric bias; indeed, overt cultural hostility was directed not only at Muslims and Jews but also at “deviant Eastern” Christian churches. The archives of the White Fathers, White Sisters, and other Catholic missions in North Africa (some now located in Rome, France, or still in the Maghrib), as well as those of diverse Anglo-American Protestant churches, were neglected, but that too has changed. Missionaries emphasized European/Western activities and experiences in reports sent back to church officials, rather than the lived realities of the peoples they aimed to “save.” Yet information gathered explicitly to subvert local religious beliefs and “traditional” customs, or often random recordings, offer documentation on families, childrearing, marriage, domestic economies, identities, and the boundaries of communal life. In addition, they furnish evidence not found in government/colonial and diplomatic sources or at variance with the official line. Officials at the top of colonial pecking orders frequently viewed some kinds of information as unworthy of note, and as men, they did not typically have access to the interiors of households.

Catholic missionary records, diverse and massive as they are, present singular difficulties. Paradoxically, for a seemingly hierarchical (and therefore presumably centralized) institution as the Roman Catholic Church the archives of female congregations at work across the empire are decentralized and scattered; it is often daunting to gain access to them. As Sarah Curtis observed in “The Double Invisibility of Missionary Sisters,” “The Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, which reprinted missionary reports and correspondence for donors back in France rarely includes writings by women missionaries.” Since they are “privately owned by the religious orders themselves,” access often requires special permission and negotiations.73 Some records still remain in former colonies, such as the documents of the White Fathers and Sisters in Algeria and Tunisia, or the archives of the mother house of the Soeurs de Saint-Joseph de l’Apparition in Tunis, which founded the first girls’ schools there in the 1840s. The CAOM, the SHAT, and the CADN—as well as numerous other repositories—contain abundant data on missions because colonial authorities closely tracked their undertakings, sometimes nervously or censoriously, at others, with approval. The most recent scholarship now argues that many “foreign” missionaries were themselves frequently assimilated to Middle Eastern or North African cultures and societies over time.74

Other collections generated by “cultural missionaries” deserve mention—out of a larger range of sources. The AIU’s archives located in its Paris headquarters and some papers still conserved outside of France cover the period from 1860 to 1940. Scholars of Jewish history have extensively examined the AIU archives, particularly for education in precolonial and colonial North Africa.75 However, the same is not true for the Alliance Française (AF) in Paris. Founded in 1883 with its first overseas branch in Tunisia, part of the AF central holdings were unavailable until Janet Horne and other historians repatriated them from a curious exile Russia, thus making them accessible. The Alliance served as the cultural handmaiden of France’s expanding global empire by making language the cornerstone of a new form of diplomacy. As Horne argues, AF documents allow us to grasp the play of soft power “from below,” including how colonial subjects exerted agency by embracing some programs but “on their own terms.”76 The fact that the multinational Alliance operated as both a private and public project complicates our understanding of imperialism. In the realms of international public health and medicine, France established several “Instituts Pasteur” in Tunis and Algiers along the lines of the Parisian prototype; these records too offer documentation, as do public and/or private national and transnational social-welfare organizations and reform movements—for example, the records of the diverse League of Nations committees, local chapters of the Red Cross or Red Crescent, sports leagues, or youth groups like scouting or girl guides. By World War II, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides boasted local chapters in North Africa, with separate sections for Europeans and natives. Despite their importance, scouting/guide chapters represent the outer limits of documentary ephemera because, as is true of local women’s associations, they were rarely archived or only haphazardly so. Directly related, the diverse and rich records generated by the “European” settlers in North Africa, many of whom resided there for generations, call for closer historical attention— literary, memoirs, family papers, business records, and so on. Scholars should expand their archival and documentary reach far beyond colonial archives, notably by employing oral sources/interviews as well as women-authored memoirs, whether published or not. Fiction cum biography and autobiography offers another rich vein of documentation, such as the literary work of Assia Djebar, Fatima Mernissi, and above all lesser-known writers.77

Many voices remain inaudible—especially for the 19th century—because the documentary corpus is lacking, inaccessible, or recondite, or was destroyed during warfare. High rates of illiteracy meant that written accounts from “below” lack; the rich oral literature of women—songs, proverbs, epics, tales that families tell—was filed away in the catalogue of folklore.78 Yet the convergence of gender theory and history research has expanded the archive to include diet, food, cooking, clothing, beauty, and so on, and brought to bear critical perspectives on visual sources, material culture, and different kinds of space. Methods such as the tried-and-true “reading against the grain” potentially transform highly suspect or recondite evidence into something of value.79 There is plenty of historical data to be exploited, but at times the historian’s training in languages and in local cultures poses challenges. Despite inherent limitations, the documentary corpus surveyed here offer opportunities for deeper understandings of North African women and the colonial past—as long as historians are vigilant about data generated by “intimate outsiders” or those whose primary goal was to exploit, dominate, and/or convert the peoples studied. Did the indisputable violence of imperial conquest “deplete the archive,” and silence female voices, as some scholars claim?80 The response to this is probably both affirmative and negative. For North Africa and the Middle East today, “failing or enfeebled states”—like Libya—demonstrate the bitter legacies of imperialism, postcolonial neoimperialism, and the historical fiction that is/was “decolonization.” We already know too well the calamitous consequences for the peoples of the region. What these “contemporary” legacies hold for the future of historical research on women and gender is difficult to foresee.

Archives diplomatiques—Centre de Nantes, France (ADCN). Houses mainly the Protectorate archives.

Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer, Aix-en-Provence, France (ANOM). Houses the archives of French colonies.

Jewish Women’s Archive contains bibliography and archival information.

Library of Congress/Kluge Center and National History Center: Ten-year Mellon-funded International seminars on Decolonization, 2006–2015.

Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean. A World History Curriculum Project for Educators. Six Teaching Modules.

Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre—Château de Vincennes, Paris, France (SHAT). Houses military archives.

Women and Social Movements in Modern Empires Since 1820—a supplement to Women and Social Movements, International—explores prominent themes in world history since 1820: conquest, colonization, settlement, resistance, and postcoloniality, as told through women’s voices. Contains 75,000 pages of highly curated text-based documents.

World History Matters, the Center for History and New Media Project, George Mason University, Women in World History project; curriculum module, “Women in North African History, 19th–20th Centuries,” [fourteen documents translated from French and Arabic, commentary, introductions, and teaching guide].

Further Reading

Amster, Ellen J. Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877–1956. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Baker, Alison. Voices of Resistance: Oral Histories of Moroccan Women. New York: SUNY Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Charrad, Mounira R. States and Women’s rights. The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Clancy-Smith, Julia. Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800–1904). Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Clancy-Smith, Julia. Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Clancy-Smith, Julia, and Frances Gouda, eds. Domesticating the Empire: Languages of Gender, Race, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism, 1830–1962. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.Find this resource:

Coller, Ian. Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1789–1831. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Larguèche, Dalenda, ed., Femmes en villes. Tunis: Centre de Publications Universitaires, 2006.Find this resource:

Lorcin, Patricia M. E. Imperial Identities: Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Race in Colonial Algeria. London: I. B. Tauris, 1995.Find this resource:

Lorcin, Patricia M. E. Historicizing Colonial Nostalgia: European Women’s Narratives and Kenya, 1900–Present. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.Find this resource:

Maghraoui, Driss. Revisiting the Colonial Past in Morocco. London: Taylor and Francis, 2013.Find this resource:

McDougall, James. History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

McDougall, James. A History of Algeria. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Miller, Susan G. A History of Modern Morocco. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Perkins, Kenneth J. A History of Modern Tunisia. 2d ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Rogers, Rebecca. A Frenchwoman’s Imperial Story: Madame Luce in Nineteenth-Century Algeria. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Segalla, Spencer. The Moroccan Soul: French Education, Colonial Ethnology, and Muslim Resistance, 1912–1956. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Sessions, Jennifer. By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest of Algeria. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Shepard, Todd. The invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Stein, Sarah Abrevaya. Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Suad, Joseph, ed. Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. 5 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2003–2008.Find this resource:

Taraud, Christelle. La prostitution coloniale: Algérie, Maroc, Tunisie (1830–1962). Paris: Éditions Payot & Rivages, 2009.Find this resource:

Vince, Natalya. Our Fighting Sisters: Nation, Memory and Gender in Algeria, 1954–2012. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2016.Find this resource:


(1.) Allan Christelow, Muslim Law Courts and the French Colonial State in Algeria (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985); and Ellen J. Amster, Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877–1956 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013).

(2.) Patricia M. E. Lorcin, Imperial Identities: Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Race in Colonial Algeria (London: I. B. Tauris, 1995); and Julia Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda, eds., Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia 1998).

(3.) Joshua Schreier, The Merchants of Oran: A Jewish Port at the Dawn of Empire (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017).

(4.) James McDougall, A History of Algeria (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2017); and Julia Clancy-Smith, ed., and introduction, “Maghribi Histories in the Modern Era,” special issue, International Journal of Middle East Studies 44.4 (November 2012): 625–630.

(5.) Julia Clancy-Smith, Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1830–1904) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

(6.) Christelle Taraud, La prostitution coloniale: Algérie, Maroc, Tunisie (1830–1962) (Paris: Éditions Payot & Rivages, 2009); Christelle Taraud, Sexes et colonies: Virilité, homosexualité et tourisme sexuel au Maghreb (1830–1962) (Paris: Payot, 2012); and Christelle Taraud, “Urbanisme, hygiénisme et prostitution à Casablanca dans les années 1920,” French Colonial History 7 (2006): 97–108.

(7.) William Gallois, A History of Violence in the Early Algerian Colony (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

(8.) Jennifer Sessions, By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest of Algeria (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011); Osama Abi-Mershed, Apostles of Modernity: Saint-Simoniens and the Civilizing Mission in Algeria (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); and Julia Clancy-Smith, “Islam, Gender, and Identities in the Making of French Algeria, 1830–1962,” in Domesticating the Empire, 154–174, here 154.

(9.) Sarah A. Stein, Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014); and Susan G. Miller, “Moïse Nahon and the Invention of the Modern Maghribi Jew,” in French Mediterraneans, eds. Patricia M. E. Lorcin and Todd Shepard (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016), 293–319.

(10.) Karima Direche-Slimani, Chrétiens de Kabylie: Histoire d’une communauté sans histoire: Une action missionaire de l’Algérie (Paris: Bouchène, 2004). Fadhma Amrouche, Histoire de ma vie (Paris: La Découverte, 2000); and My Life Story: The Autobiography of a Berber Woman, translated by Dorothy S. Blair (New York: The Women’s Press Limited, 1988).

(11.) Sarah A. Curtis, Civilizing Habits: Women Missionaries and the Revival of the French Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); and Owen White and J. P. Daughton, eds., An Empire Divided: Religions, Republicanism, and the Making of French Colonialism, 1880–1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

(12.) Michael M. Laskier’s, The Alliance Israelite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco, 1862–1962 (Binghampton, NY: SUNY Press, 1984) was the first study devoted to the AIU in North Africa; see also André Kaspi, ed., Histoire de l’Alliance israélite universelle de 1860 à nos jours (Paris: Colin, 2010).

(13.) Taraud, La prostitution coloniale.

(14.) Rebecca Rogers, A Frenchwoman’s Imperial Story: Madame Luce in Nineteenth-Century Algeria (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013).

(15.) Patricia M. E. Lorcin, “Women, Gender and Nation in Colonial Novels of Inter-war Algeria,” Historical Reflections/Reflexions historiques 28 (2002): 163–184, here 169; and Margaret Cook Anderson, Regeneration Through Empire: French Pronatalists and Colonial Settlement in the Third Republic (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015).

(17.) Alice L. Conklin, A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1894–1930 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997).

(18.) Zeynep Çelik, Julia Clancy-Smith, and Frances Terpak, eds., Walls of Algiers: Narratives of The City through Text and Image (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2009).

(19.) James McDougall, History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and McDougall, A History of Algeria.

(20.) Kenneth J. Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia, 2d ed. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014); and Julia Clancy-Smith, Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

(21.) See the numerous works by Dalenda Larguèche on Tunisian women, for example, the edited volume Femmes en villes (Tunis: Centre de Publications Universitaires, 2006); also Julia Clancy-Smith, “L’École Rue du Pacha à Tunis: l’education de la femme arabe et la plus grande France (1900–1914),” Le Genre de la Nation, special issue: Clio: Histoire, Femmes, Société 12 (2000): 33–55; and Gladys Adda, “Je reste optimiste,” in Mémoire de femmes: Tunisiennes dans la vie publique 1920–1960, ed. Habib Kazdaghli, (Tunis: Edition Média Com, 1993), 51–77.

(22.) Driss Maghraoui, Revisiting the Colonial Past in Morocco (London: Taylor and Francis, 2013); and Susan Gilson G. Miller, A History of Modern Morocco (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

(23.) Mounira R. Charrad, States and Women’s Rights. The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

(24.) The French colonial houses of prostitution in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are documented in Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, “Prostitution et homosexualité, 1935–1949,” Centre des Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes (CADN), France, Protectorat de Tunisie, Fonds de la Résidence, Cote 1888 (micro-film A7571). They are reproduced and analyzed by Julia Clancy-Smith in “Women and Social Movements in Modern Empires since 1820.”

(25.) Amster, Medicine and the Saints, 1.

(26.) Richard C. Keller, Colonial Madness: French Psychiatry in French North Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

(28.) Edmund Burke III, The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), usefully surveys and compares both French and Anglo-American anthropology as practiced in Morocco. Clifford Geertz first engaged in research in the 1960s, which opened the floodgates to practitioners in the “American” tradition, such as Abdallah Hammoudi, Lawrence Rosen, and Dale F. Eickelman. See Susan G. Miller, “Of Time and the City: Clifford Geertz on Urban History,” Journal of North African Studies 14.3 (2009): 479–490. Also David Crawford and Rachel Newcomb, Encountering Morocco: Fieldwork and Cultural Understanding (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013); and Katherine E. Hoffman, We Share Walls: Language, Land and Gender in Berber Morocco (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008).

(29.) Spencer Segalla, The Moroccan Soul: French Education, Colonial Ethnology, and Muslim Resistance, 1912–1956 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009).

(30.) Owen White and Elizabeth Heath, “The French Empire and the History of Economic Life,” French Contemporary Studies 35 (June 2017): 76–88.

(31.) Chris Rominger, “Nursing Transgressions, Exploring Difference: North Africans in French Medical Spaces during the First World War,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, forthcoming.

(32.) Jennifer Anne Boittin, Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010); and also Alma Heckman, Radical Roads Not Taken: Moroccan Jewish Communists, 1925–1975 (PhD dissertation, History, University of California, Los Angeles, 2015).

(33.) Driss Maghraoui, “The Goumiers in the Second World War: History and Colonial Representations,” Journal of North African Studies 19.4 (2014): 571–586; and Zohra Drif, Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter (Charlottesville, NC: Just World Books, 2017), 35.

(34.) Claire Eldridge, “Remembering the Other: Postcolonial Perspectives on Relationships between Jews and Muslim in French Algeria,” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 11.3 (2012): 299–317.

(35.) Julia Clancy-Smith, “From Household to School Room: Women, Trans-Mediterranean Networks, and Education in North Africa,” in French Mediterraneans, 200–231; and Mark W. Willis, “Not Liberation, but Destruction: War Damage in Tunisia in the Second World War, 1942–43,” Journal of North African Studies 20.2 (March 2015): 187–203.

(36.) Marcel Reggui, Les Massacres de Guelma. Algérie, mai 1945: une enquête inédite sur la furie des milices coloniales (Paris: La Découverte, 2006); see also Jean-Pierre Peyroulou, L’Algérie en guerre civile (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 2002).

(37.) This literature is particularly rich for Egypt; see Beth Baron, The Women’s Awakening in Egypt: Culture, Society, and the Press (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994); and Marilyn Booth, May Her Likes be Multiplied. Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); and Hoda Yousef, Composing Egypt: Reading and Writing and the Emergence of a Modern Nation, 1870–1930 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016). On the French Mandate, Elizabeth Thompson, Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.)

(38.) Charrad, States and Women’s Rights.

(39.) Drif, Inside the Battle of Algiers, 40.

(40.) Louisette Ighilahriz, Algérienne: Récit recueilli par Anne Nivat (Paris: Fayard/Calmann-Lévy, 2001); and Matthew Connelly, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origin of the Post-Cold War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

(41.) In recognition of her literary and artistic production, the Académie Française elected Djebar a member in 2005. Emma Kuby, “From Auschwitz to Algeria: The Mediterranean Limits of the French Anti-Concentration Camp Movement, 1952–1959,” in French Mediterraneans, eds. Lorcin and Shepard, 347–371.

(42.) Drif, Inside the Battle of Algiers, 307.

(43.) Natalya Vince, Our Fighting Sisters: Nation, Memory and Gender in Algeria, 1954–2012 (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2016); and Zahia Smail Salhi, “Boubacha, Djamila,” in Dictionary of African Biography, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 498–500.

(44.) Drif, Inside the Battle of Algiers, 303–349.

(45.) Jeffrey Byrne, Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization, and the Third World Order (New York: Oxford, 2015).

(46.) In French, Les Damnés de la Terre (Paris: Maspero, 1961; English translation, 1963).

(47.) Since the 1990s, a number of the children of Algerian rape victims have come forward in France, demanding justice; dissertations and published monographs have revealed the extent of sexual violence; for examples, Sylvie Thénault, Une drôle de justice: Les magistrats dans la guerre d’Algérie (Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 2001); and Raphaëlle Branche, La Torture et l’armée pendant la guerre d’Algérie (1954–1962) (Paris: Gallimard, 2001), and other works.

(48.) Luis Martinez, The Algerian Civil War, 1990–1998 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990); and McDougall, Algeria.

(49.) Alison Baker, Voices of Resistance: Oral Histories of Moroccan Women (New York: SUNY Press, 1998). Baker was one of the first researchers to archive through oral interviewing techniques the experiences of Moroccan women of all classes in anticolonial resistance.

(50.) The English translation of the revised family code is available online.

(51.) Charrad, States and Women’s Rights; Mounira M. Charrad, “Tunisia at the Forefront of the Arab World: Two Waves of Gender Legislation,” Washington and Lee Law Review 64 (2007): 1513–1527; and Mounira M. Charrad and Amina Zarrugh, “The Arab Spring and Women’s Rights in Tunisia,”; and Sophie Bessis, “Le feminisme institutionnel en Tunisie,” Clio: Histoire, femmes et societies 9 (1999): 93–105.

(52.) Valentine M. Moghadam, ed., From Patriarchy to Empowerment: Women’s Participation, Movements, and Rights in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2007).

(53.) See the special issue of Middle East Report 281 (Winter 2016) devoted to activism in Algeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere.

(54.) Amster, Medicine and the Saints, 143; see also Osire Glacier, Femininity, Masculinity, and Sexuality in Morocco and Hollywood: the Negated Sex (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2017).

(55.) On earlier scholarly trends: Nikki R. Keddie and Beth Baron, eds., Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991); Julia Clancy-Smith, “Changing Perspectives on Colonialism and Imperialism: Women, Gender, Empire,” in Historians and Historiography of the Modern Middle East, eds. Israel Gershoni and Amy Singer (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006), 70–100; Patricia M. E. Lorcin, “Women in France d’Outre-Mer: Pedagogy and Avenues of Research,” in a special issue of the Journal of Women’s History, forum on “Women, Gender, and Empire,” 28.4 (2016): 113–123; and Julia Clancy-Smith, “Historians and Empires: A Personal Odyssey,” in a special issue of the Journal of Women’s History, forum on “Women, Gender, and Empire,” 28.4 (2016): 144–153.

(56.) Nupur Chaudhuri and Margaret Strobel, eds., Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).

(57.) The latest work studies women, gender, and empire from multiple perspectives. For examples, Rebecca Rogers, “Telling Stories about the Colonies: British and French Women in Algeria in the Nineteenth Century,” Gender and History 21.1 (2009): 39–59; and Rebecca Rogers, “Teaching Morality and Religion in XIXe-Century Colonial Algeria: Gender and the Civilizing Mission,” History of Education 40.6 (2011): 741–759; Julia Clancy-Smith, “Éducation des jeunes filles Musulmanes en Tunisie: Missionnaires religieux et laïques,” in Le pouvoir du genre: Laïcités et religions 1905–2005, ed. Florence Rochefort (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2007), 127–143; and Beth Baron, The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014).

(58.) Rebecca Rogers, “‘Cherchez la femme’: Women and Gender in French Scholarship on the Empire,” Journal of Women’s History, forum on “Women, Gender, and Empire,” 28.4 (2016): 124–133; and also Anne Hugon, ed., Histoire des femmes en situation colonial: Afrique et Asie, XXe siècle (Paris: Khartala, 2004).

(59.) Emine Evered, Empire and Education under the Ottomans: Politics, Reform and Resistance from the Tanzimat to the Young Turks (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012). Anbara Salam Khalidi’s Memoirs of an Early Arab Feminist: the Life and Activism of Anbara Salam Khalidi, trans. Tarif Khalidi (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) discusses the destruction of family and personal archives and papers during the French Mandate.

(60.) Author’s interviews with Dorra Bouzid, La Marsa, Tunisia, June–July 2009.

(61.) Marnia Lazreg, The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question (London: Routledge, 1994); and Marnia Lazreg, Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

(62.) The literature is too copious to fully reference; of note is Neil MacMaster’s Burning the Veil: The Algerian War and the “Emancipation” of Muslim Women, 1954–62 (Manchester, U.K.: University of Manchester Press, 2009), which used previously unavailable colonial sources.

(63.) Macmaster and White chapters in Thomas Martin, ed., The French Colonial Mind, vol. 1: Mental Maps of Empire and Colonial Encounters, and vol. 2: Violence, Military Encounters, and Colonialism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).

(64.) Alison Baker, Voices of Resistance: Oral Histories of Moroccan Women (Binghamton, NY: SUNY Press, 1998). Baker was one of the first researchers to archive through oral interviewing techniques the experiences of Moroccan women of all classes in anticolonial resistance.

(65.) Clancy-Smith, “From Household to School Room,” 214–220.

(66.) Julia Clancy-Smith, “L’Afrique du Nord à l’époque coloniale: migration, agriculture et échec de l’innovation, 1830–1914,” Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle 53.2 (2016): 97–114.

(67.) Victoria N. Meyer, “Innovations from the Levant: Smallpox Inoculation and Perceptions of Scientific Medicine,” forthcoming.

(68.) Aomar Boum, Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013).

(69.) Works by Abdelhamid Larguéche on the Jews of Tunisia is an example: see his Les ombres de la ville: Pauvres, marginaux et minoritaires à Tunis (Tunis: Centre de Publication Universitaire, 2001); for Morocco, Driss Maghraoui’s publications are particularly insightful: see his Revisiting the Colonial Past.

(70.) Jennifer Johnson, The Battle for Algeria: Sovereignty, Health Care, and Humanitarianism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

(71.) Le service historique de l’armée de terre (SHAT) is under the archival umbrella of the Le Service Historique de la Défense (SHD), which also contains the records of other military branches.

(72.) See Todd Shepard, “‘Of Sovereignty’: Disputed Archives, ‘Wholly Modern’ Archives, and the Post-decolonization French and Algerian Republics, 1962–2012,” American Historical Review 120.3 (June 2015): 869–883.

(73.) Sarah A. Curtis, “The Double Invisibility of Missionary Sisters,” Journal of Women’s History, forum on “Women, Gender, and Empire,” 28.4 (2016): 134–143.

(74.) Beth Baron, The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014); and Inger Marie Okkenhaug’s review essay “Christian Missions in the Middle East and the Ottoman Balkans: Education, Reform, and Failed Conversions 1891–1967,” IJMES 47.3 (August 2015): 593–604.

(75.) For examples, Rachel Simon, Change within Tradition among Jewish women in Libya (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992); Susan G. Miller, “Gender and the Poetics of Emancipation: The Alliance Israélite Universelle in northern Morocco, 1890–1912,” in Franco-Arab Encounters, eds. L. Carl Brown and Matthew S. Gordon (Beirut: American University of Beirut Press, 1996); and Frances Malino, Teaching Freedom: Jewish Sisters In Muslim Lands (London: Palgrave, 2008); and the AIU website.

(76.) Janet R. Horne, “’To Spread the French Language Is to Extend the Patrie’: The Colonial Mission of the Alliance Française,” French Historical Studies 40.1 (2017): 95–127.

(77.) Among her many works: Assia Djebar, Children of the New World : A Novel of the Algerian War (New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2005), originally published in 1962; and Fantasia : An Algerian Cavalcade, trans. Dorothy S. Blair (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993), originally published in 1985; see also Patricia M. E. Lorcin, Historicizing Colonial Nostalgia: European Women’s Narratives and Kenya, 1900–Present (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012).

(78.) For interviews with North African women, see Habib Kazdaghli, Mémoire de femmes: Tunisiennes dans la vie publique 1920–1960 (Tunis: Edition Média Com, 1993); and the special issue of Clio, Femmes au Maghreb 9 (1999).

(79.) On methodologies for reading documents, the introduction to Amy Eisen Kallander, Women, Gender, and the Palace Households in Ottoman Tunisia (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013), is a model of how recalcitrant sources can be mobilized to reconstruct women’s lives.

(80.) Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994); and Antoinette Burton, At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1998). See also the “Roundtable: The Archives of Decolonization,” ed. Farina Mir, American Historical Review 120.3 (June 2015): 867–934.