Settler colonialism’s (commemorative) structures: Susan Slyomovics ‘Dismantling a world: France’s monumental military heritage in Sidi-Bel-Abbès, Algeria’, The Journal of North African Studies, 2019


Abstract: The history of France’s war memorials is a much-studied domain of scholarly inquiry. According to historian Antoine Prost, constructing monuments on a grand scale to commemorate wars was a response to the staggering number of 1,300,000 French dead in World War I. Among those who fought for France in 1914–18 were 343,000 conscripted and mobilised Algerians divided according to colonial categories between French citizens and indigènes, the latter drafted as French subjects. So widespread was the ‘cult of the monument’ that the term ‘statuomania’ was coined by historian Maurice Agulhon to account for 36,000 war memorials erected in the interwar period throughout France and its overseas territories, especially in Algeria, which was integrated as France’s southernmost province. The significance of French colonists implanting statues was well understood by the native Algerian population who linked a colonial Algeria known for a plethora of monuments to the visible and materialised expressions of colonial power and occupation. Analysing how the formerly colonised of Algeria address the enduring material presence of statues, steles, monuments, and other effigies of the colonial past, this essay draws on concepts such as ‘dark heritage’ and ‘difficult heritage’. My case study is the town of Sidi-Bel-Abbès, headquarters and cradle of the French Foreign Legion until 1962 and the different fates of its two war memorials after Algeria’s 1962 independence from France.

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