The Challenge of Contemporary Historical Research in Algeria

Andrew Lebovich est étudiant en doctorat en Histoire Africaine à l’Université de Columbia dans la ville de New York. Il travaille sur les connexions religieuses entre l’Algérie et l’Afrique de l’Ouest dans l’époque contemporaine et les implications des changements religieux dans la politique, la société, et la culture. Il présente pour Textures du Temps son travail et son expérience de recherche, et la difficulté de connecter histoire de l’Algérie et histoire de l’Afrique.
أندرو لابوفيتش، طالب دكتوراه في التاريخ الإفريقي في جامعة كولومبيا بمدينة نيويورك. يدور بحثه حول علاقات الجزائر مع إفريقيا الغربية في الفترة المعاصرة وتأثير التحولات الدينية على السياسة و المجتمع و الثقافة. في هذا المقال الذي كتبه ل
حبكات الزمن، يقدم أندرو لابوفيتش تجربته في البحث وصعوبات الوصل بين تاريخ الجزائر و تاريخ إفريقيا.س

“Merci, now I have a better sense of your subject. Come back next Tuesday, and we’ll see what we’ve found.” This was how my research in Algeria began, at the new (and at least half-empty) National Library building built next to the erstwhile colonial gardens, now turned into a public park.1  A week later after the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, I returned to the National Library to find the librarian had returned a grand total of three books, none of which were remotely related to my subject. When I asked to look for copies from the early 1980s of the Algerian official daily El Moudjahid, another librarian informed me that I would have to go to the older National Library building in central Algiers, up the hill from the famous Grande Poste that once housed the French colonial administration here. Not the most auspicious start to any research trip.

  1. I was able to conduct a month of fieldwork in Algiers and Constantine thanks to generous funding and assistance from the American Institute for Maghrib Studies and the Centre d’Études Maghrébines en Algérie. []

Andrew Lebovich

Andrew Lebovich is a doctoral student in African History at Columbia University. His research focuses on reformist Muslim movements and the relationship between Islam, politics, and society in North Africa, the Sahara, and the Sahel from the 1950s until today.

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Algeria’s Belle Époque (3) Narratives of Religious and Social Change

Ed McAllister revient pour Textures du temps sur la nostalgie des années Boumediene. Cette nostalgie n’a pas le même contenu selon le lieu d’où l’on se remémore le passé…
يعود إد ماكاليستر في
حبكات الزمان إلى حنين الناس إلى عهد بومدين. هذا الحنين الذي لا يكون له نفس المضمون بحسب المكان الذي نتذكر من خلاله الماضي.س

Debates in Algeria about the place religion should occupy in society among many Algerian intellectuals, and many of those I have talked to that live in the wealthier neighbourhoods that occupy the high ground above central Algiers, frequently remind me of a the full frontal opposition between the secular and the religious that is found in debates in France (and increasingly, elsewhere in Europe). This binary is not new to Algeria, where it has evolved and takes different forms from those found in France and has, as a result, become an Algerian narrative. In its least nuanced form, the terms of this debate pit a top-down brand of secularism, imbued with modernist concepts of republicanism, rationality, and toleration of difference against the normative version of Islam that emerged in the mid-1980s and is equated by secularists with intolerance, anti-rationality, social repression and obscurantism. In Algeria, the binary nature of this debate has been intensified by a much oversimplified political split between éradicateurs and conciliateurs during the conflict of the 1990s and continues a series of binaries that exist in socially held depictions of the Algerian past (Algerian/French; Arab/Berber, internal maquis/frontier army, etc).

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