Dr Natalya Vince, University of Portsmouth

 

Using a case study of Algeria from 1962 to the present, this research analyses the relationship between nation building, gender and narratives of the past across different generations and geographical spaces. Its focus is not only on shifting state constructions of female veterans of Algeria’s bloody war of decolonisation, but also an analysis of how these ‘models’ have been received, ignored or rewritten by both female veterans in rural and urban areas and younger generations. The research thus seeks to open up new directions in existing research on nation building in Algeria, which has tended to focus on the role of a predominantly male, urban, and now ageing, elite in the institutionalisation, dissemination and manipulation of a homogenous and unifying national history. The project also aims to provide a point of comparison with studies of nation building, notably in post-colonial states. Furthermore, the project has significant contemporary relevance in the context of the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’, as it seeks to provide insights into the national and transnational frames of reference of a segment of Algerian youth, namely trainee teachers. Recent events have highlighted that this an underexplored area in Anglophone academia.

The main output of the project is a monograph entitled ‘Rewriting the veteran: gender, geography, generation and the Algerian War.’ The monograph will draw on a wide range of primary research which I have carried out, including interviews with female veterans in rural and urban areas, a case study of history students at the Ecole normale supérieure (teacher training college) in Algiers, archival research in France, Algeria, the UK and the US and an extensive study of the Algerian press. A linked period of institutional research leave before the proposed start of the Fellowship will enable me to complete targeted additional research in Algeria (including further research into student attitudes) and begin writing up. The six months of the award would thus be devoted to completing the monograph and disseminating the research. Chapter 1 of the monograph analyses the role of women in the Algerian War as both participants and symbols in nationalist and colonial propaganda. Chapter 2 examines the evolution of the female veteran in official history, with a particular emphasis on official discourse, national days, commemorative ceremonies, museums and monuments. Chapter 3 analyses how the female veteran has been used in counter-discourse, notably by feminist groups from the 1970s onwards, who in denouncing a ‘post-independence betrayal’ of female veterans rewrite these women as proto-feminist activists. It also seeks to explore how this has influenced much academic writing on women in the Algerian War. Chapters 4 and 5 use rural and urban case studies to explore how veterans themselves recount their past, the networks which emerge, the forms transmission takes and the interactions between these women, their stories and the dominant narrative. Chapter 6 focuses on youth perceptions of female veterans and the teaching of history more broadly, with case studies (2007/2011) demonstrating how in the context of Islamism, globalisation and the demographic decline of the war generation, representations of veterans and war narratives have metamorphosed.

Through an evidence-based approach, the research thus seeks to develop a nuanced account of the contradictions, compromises and forms of resistance involved in nation building and political legitimisation in single party and authoritarian regimes, and the transnational contexts in which they operate.

 

 

Dr Natalya Vince

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