#IAS_NUQ Virtual Event Series: Arthur Asseraf, Electric News in Colonial Algeria

September 19, 2022

Joining the #IAS_NUQ Virtual Event Series, Arthur Asseraf, associate professor in history at the University of Cambridge, examined how under colonialism, information spread through new technologies such as the printing press, telegraph, cinema, and radio to profoundly reshape how news circulated amongst local populations. Sharing stories from his book Electric News in Colonial AlgeriaAsseraf depicted how the French colonial government set up an extensive network of surveillance that would attempt – and often fail – to monitor Algerians’ reactions to news to tighten their control of the native Algerian populations.

About the book:
How do the things which connect us also serve to divide us? Electric News in Colonial Algeria traces how news circulated in a particularly divided society: Algeria under French rule in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It tells a different history of globalization, one which puts the experience of everyday people at the center. The years between 1881 and 1940 were those of maximum colonial power in North Africa, a period of intense technological revolution, global high imperialism, and the expansion of settler colonialism. Algerians became connected to international networks of news, and local people followed distant events with great interest. But once news reached Algeria, accounts of recent events often provoked conflict as they moved between different social groups. In a society split between its native majority and a substantial settler minority, distant wars led to riots. Circulation and polarization were two sides of the same coin.
Examining a range of sources in multiple languages across colonial society, Electric News in Colonial Algeria offers a new understanding of the spread of news. News was a whole ecosystem in which new technologies such as the printing press, telegraph, cinema, and radio interacted with older media like songs, rumors, letters, and manuscripts. The French government watched anxiously over these developments, monitoring Algerians' reactions to news through an extensive network of surveillance that often ended up spreading news rather than controlling its flow. By tracking what different people thought of as news, this history helps us reconsider the relationship between time, media, and historical change.
The book talk with Asseraf is part of The Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South’s #IAS_NUQ Virtual Event series. For upcoming events and talks by #IAS_NUQ, click here.