The Politics of News in Colonial Algeria

Episode 295

hosted by Nir Shafir

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We often assume that as we become increasingly connected to ever larger networks of information and news we become part of larger and more cohesive polities. In this episode, Arthur Asseraf discusses how the introduction of new networks of communication in colonial Algeria generated friction and unevenness instead of expansive flows. Looking at telegraphs, newspapers, cinemas and more we discuss not only the types of intermediaries that flourished in this new environment, but also how news led to new and imagined forms of Muslim belonging in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. From a discussion of telegrams and coffee shops we jump into discussions of pan-Islamism, colonial conspiracy theories, and the nature of polities.

This episode is part of a series entitled "History of Science, Ottoman or Otherwise."

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Contributor Bios

Arthur Asseraf is currently Examination Fellow in History at All Souls College, Oxford and from 2017 will be University Lecturer in the History of France and the Francophone World since c.1800 at the University of Cambridge. His research focuses on the history of information in the modern Mediterranean and on the colonial and post-colonial history of France and North Africa.
Nir Shafir is a historian of the Middle East whose research examines the intersections of knowledge production, religious practice, and material culture in the early modern world (1400-1800). He curates Ottoman History Podcast’s series on history of science in addition to being one of the co-founders of, a website that explores the archives and libraries of the Islamic world. He is currently assistant professor of history at UCSD.

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Episode No. 295
Release Date: 23 January 2017
Recording Location: Rethymno, Greece
Audio editing by Shireen Hamza
Music: from Excavated Shellac - Lili Labassi - Mazal Haye Mazal; from - Egil Daglar Ustunden Asam - Viktoriya Hanim
Special thanks to Kara Güneş for permission to use the composition "Istanbul" in the intro and to Monsieur Doumani for allowing us to use "The System/Το σύστημαν" in the outro
Images and bibliography courtesy of Arthur Asseraf


Map of Algerian telegraphic service, c.1862. At this stage, the network extended to Tunisia but was not connected to France, despite several attempts to establish cables across the Mediterranean. ('Carte du service télégraphique d'Algérie et de Tunisie', Aix-en-Provence, Archives Nationales d'Outre-Mer, F80/2039/10).

Postcard depicting new centre of Algiers c.1910. Left, the pseudo-mosque is the headquarters of the largest newspaper in Algeria, La dépêche algérienne (1904-6), on the right, the other neo-mauresque palace is the Grande Poste (1910), the central post office where telegraphic dispatches arrived first from France and which remains the monumental centre of Algiers (author's personal collection).

Select Bibliography

Asseraf, Arthur, 'La société coloniale face à l'actualité internationale, 1881-1899', Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine, 2016, 63:2, 110-132

Bayly, Christopher, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780-1870, Cambridge, 1996.

Bektas, Yakup, 'The Sultan's Messenger: Cultural Constructions of Ottoman Telegraphy, 1847-1880', Technology and Culture, 2000, 41:4, 669-696.

Carey, James, 'Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph', from Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society, 155-177.

Carlier, Omar, 'Le café maure. Sociabilité masculine et effervescence citoyenne (Algérie XVIIe-XXe siècles)', Annales, 1990, 45:4, 975-1003.

Clancy-Smith, Julia, Rebel and Saint. Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800-1904), Berkeley, 1994.

Lacroix, Annick, Une histoire sociale et spatiale de l'Etat dans l'Algérie colonisée. L'administration des Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones au milieu du XIXe siècle à la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Doctoral thesis, ENS Cachan, 2014.
McDougall, James, History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria, Cambridge, 2006.

Wenzlhuemer, Roland, Connecting the Nineteenth-Century World: The Telegraph and Globalization, Cambridge, 2012.


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