Doing History Differently: ‘Generation Independence. Algeria, a people’s history’

Speakers: Walid Benkhaled (Portsmouth), Toufik Douib (London), Natalya Vince (Portsmouth)
Discussant: James McDougall (Oxford)
Convenor: Andrea Brazzoduro (Venice/MFO)

The explosion in the production of transnational history has coincided with significant restrictions on who can write history, and who has access to reading it. Scholars from the Global South have increasing difficulties obtaining visas to study archives outside of their home countries or travel to conferences, on top of the prohibitive costs. The relationship between research assistants based in the Global South and academics leading projects in the Global North can be exploitative. Academic work is increasingly published in English, and despite the shift towards Open Access, monographs regularly cost around £70. In the Global North, calls to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum have often been appropriated by university management as a marketing strategy, resulting in superficial ‘diversifying’ rather than root-and-branch decolonisation. In this context, and in the context of ongoing strikes across higher education in France and the UK, this is a good occasion to think about how we might do history differently, outside of institutional structures.

How do you make space in history for a period which is historically important, but not politically or institutionally valued (i.e. valued by those in power)? How do you begin to gather oral testimony and build a living archive when the stories only emerge in fragments? How can stories about the past be brought to new publics, educated in different languages of instruction, using creative forms? What new opportunities to address these questions can emerge from the exponential growth in access to the internet and the use of social media in the region in the past 10 years?

“Generation Independence: A People’s History” is a work-in-progress project which explores creative ways to make Algerian post-independence histories visible and audible to wider audiences, in a context where Algerian public history continues to be dominated by retellings of the colonial and anti-colonial nationalist past and where the international lens remains focused on the civil violence of the 1990s. The project aims to bring together younger and older generations in the creation and consumption of multilingual, multimedia, open-access sources about the 1960s and 1970s. At its heart is a series of eighteen 20-minute documentary portraits in which Algerian women and men talk about the 1960s and 1970s, with their words interwoven with photographs and documents from their personal archives. Subtitled in Arabic, French and English, and available online as an openaccess source, the series seeks to prompt an intergenerational conversation about a period in Algerian history which has been marginalised. More broadly, the project seeks to be part of ongoing discussions about how engaging user communities at the start, rather than the end, of the research process can put their questions and concerns at the centre of the research design and increase the potential for the research to have a wider social impact, beyond the community of researchers.

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