New Books Network

Arthur Asseraf’s Electric News in Colonial Algeria (Oxford University Press, 2019) examines the workings of the “news ecosystem” in Algeria from the 1880s to...

Arthur Asseraf’s Electric News in Colonial Algeria (Oxford University Press, 2019) examines the workings of the “news ecosystem” in Algeria from the 1880s to the beginning of the Second World War. The study of a society divided between a dominant (European) settler minority and an Algerian Muslim majority, the book tracks the development and impact of new information technologies—the printing press, telegraph, cinema, radio (and later television)—in Algeria from the late-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. Throughout its chapters, readers are reminded to resist Eurocentric and teleological frameworks of “modernization” that do not apply to societies like Algeria’s where such technologies coexisted with other forms of news circulation including manuscripts, song, and rumor/word of mouth.

The book is grounded in an impressive range of sources in multiple languages. It challenges ideas about the relationship between print capitalism and nationalism over the course of this pivotal period in both Algerian and French history. Interrogating the history of colonial hegemony in and through the analysis of how Algerians accessed and interpreted the news in myriad ways often not anticipated by settler and state authorities, the book also has far-reaching implications for how we think about knowledge and power in imperial contexts more broadly. Its pages are rich with exciting and fascinating moments and stories—of surveillance, violence, and injustice, but also of the counterforces of the Algerian subversion of and resistance to colonial oppression.

*Special note in March 2020: I hope you are all keeping safe and healthy and that this conversation with Arthur might be helpful in some small way right now—with work, teaching and/or as a distraction in this period of global pandemic. Thanks so much to Arthur, who was SO much fun to speak with & to all the NBFS listeners out there!


Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. She is the author of Future Tense: The Culture of Anticipation in France Between the Wars (2009). Her current research focuses on the history of French nuclear weapons and testing since 1945. Her most recent article, ‘”No Hiroshima in Africa”: The Algerian War and the Question of French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara’ appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of History of the Present. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada and hopes all listeners are keeping healthy and safe at this difficult time in our world. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (panchasi@sfu.ca).