Jennifer Sessions

By Sword and Plow

France and the Conquest of Algeria

Cornell University Press 2011

New Books in African StudiesNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network December 21, 2013 Marshall Poe

Early modern European imperialism is really pretty easy to understand. Spain, Portugal, England, France, Russia and the rest were ruled by people whose business...

Early modern European imperialism is really pretty easy to understand. Spain, Portugal, England, France, Russia and the rest were ruled by people whose business was war. They were conquerors, and conquering was what they did. So, when they attacked and subdued vast stretches of the world, they did so without regret or second-thought.

All that changed after French Revolution. France was not, ostensibly at least, ruled by people whose business was war. Yet, even for the French republicans, imperialism remained attractive. And so the question was put: how does a republican state “do” imperialism?

In her excellent book By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest of Algeria (Cornell University Press, 2011), Jennifer Sessions tells us how with reference to the French conquest and colonization of Algeria. The answer the French gave was strikingly simple: you make you imperial subjects into citizens and your imperial territories part of the mother country. That was the theory, at least. Sessions shows us how it worked out–or didn’t work out–in practice. Listen in.

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