Algeria, Africa’s largest country, remains understudied except for its modern history, which features an oppressive colonialism, a dramatic war of decolonization, and a contentious postcolonial period scarred by recent civil strife. Nevertheless, Algeria’s earlier histories are also important and impressive. In Antiquity, the kingdom of Numidia (fl. 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE) emerged in eastern Algeria. During the Roman period, Algeria served as a granary and numerous cities flourished. Algeria significantly contributed to the development of Christianity. Augustine was a native who served as bishop of Hippo (modern Annaba). The Vandals and Byzantines had brief but significant presences before the Arab invasion and the introduction of Islam. The Rustamids established the Maghrib’s first Muslim polity in Algeria during the 8th century. Muslim dynasties—the Umayyads, Abbasids, Aghlabids, Fatimids, Zirids, Hammadids, Almoravids (Murābiṭūn), Almohads (Muwaḥḥidūn), Zayyanids, Hafsids, and Marinids exercised various degrees of power that integrated Algeria into a wider “Islamdom” (see General Overviews). Although under Ottoman suzerainty, the Algiers Regency acted autonomously. France seized Algiers in 1830, although Paris deferred the decision to colonize the territory for a few years. The Emir ‘Abd al-Qādir notably resisted French expansion until his capture in 1847. A year later, Paris administratively assimilated northern Algeria as French departments. Consequently, Algerians found themselves being administratively part of France, yet not citizens, while being victimized by a coercive colonialism. Nationalist movements eventually emerged, culminating in the successful War of Independence (1954–1962). Independent Algeria confronted the consequences of colonialism, including underdevelopment, illiteracy, and the perpetuation of French economic, social, and cultural influence. Thus, Algeria concurrently pursued postcolonial decolonization, highlighted by the nationalization of French oil concessions in 1971, while inaugurating state plans to accelerate development. Plummeting petroleum prices and disaffected youth primarily provoked the riots of October 1988, which led to rapid liberalization and Islamist electoral success. Fearing an Islamist takeover after the first round of parliamentary elections in December 1991, the “Pouvoir” (the military and civilian “power” elite) overthrew the government and repudiated the elections. This incited civil strife, reportedly costing 150,000 to 200,000 lives, which continues sporadically despite national reconciliation initiatives. While nominally democratic, in the second decade of the 21st century Algeria was a presidential authoritarian state. Its hydrocarbon wealth (especially natural gas) and human dimension (e.g., the immigrant workers in France [and Europe], the pieds-noirs or European colonial settlers, and the harkis, Algerians who sided with the French) add to its contemporary strategic and social significance. Algerians have also distinguished themselves in literature, music, and film.
Before starting specific projects, researchers should place Algeria in general historical and regional context. Hodgson 1974, Julien 1970, Abun-Nasr 1975, and Naylor 2009 serve this purpose. Metz 1994 and Gonzales 1998–2000 (cited under General History) are introductory surveys in breadth of history, society, politics, and culture. Entelis and Naylor 1992 and Kessous 2009 provide contemporary interdisciplinary anthologies. The entry in the Europa series (Europa Publications) offers concise yet detailed political and economic narratives. See also Reference Works and General History.
Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Succinctly surveys the Maghrib from the Carthaginian to the contemporary era. Originally published in 1971. Note that “Maghrib” is an Arabic term generally encompassing North Africa west of Egypt. Sometimes it refers to simply Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. (It is also the name for Morocco.) Specifically, al-maghrib means “the place where the sun sets”.
Entelis, John P., and Phillip C. Naylor, eds. State and Society in Algeria. Boulder, CO Westview, 1992.
A collection of essays covering a wide variety of topics, from petroleum to politics to patriarchy. An accessible and scholarly introduction to modern Algerian studies. Timely also, prepared before the outbreak of widespread civil strife.
Europa Publications. “Algeria.” In The Middle East and North Africa 2011, 155–221. Europa Publications Series 58. London: Routledge, 2011.
The chapter on Algeria is divided into two sections: “History” and “Economy.” In this edition, Ahmed Aghrout and Yahia Zoubir provide a revised historical narrative (pp. 156–189) and Richard German and Elizabeth Taylor present the economic survey (pp. 190–202). While some of the information may be overwhelming for beginning researchers, the series taken as a whole provides a valuable archive. Lists of political organizations and statistical data are especially useful. Updated annually.
Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.
A magisterial history that places Algeria and North Africa within the history of “Islamdom” and “Islamicate” civilization (Hodgson’s terms), the latter word referring “not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims” (Vol. 1, p. 59).
Julien, Charles-André. History of North Africa: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, from the Arab Conquest to 1830. Edited and revised by Roger Le Tourneau. Translated by John Petrie. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
When this was first published in 1931, Julien confronted French colonial discourse that denied North Africans their history. Instead, he described North Africans’ and Algerians’ rich precolonial heritage—a significant political as well as historical statement.
Kessous, Naaman, Christine Margerrison, Andy Stafford, and Guy Dugas, eds. Algérie vers le cinquantenaire de l’indépendance: Regards critiques. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2009.
This collection of essays is divided into three sections dealing with the Algerian war and memory (see Historiography); literature; and social, political, and religious topics. A reflective retrospection of fifty years of independence.
Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. Algeria: A Country Study. 5th ed. Washington, DC: Department of the Army, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1994.
This contribution of the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress to the Country Studies Area Handbook Program series is especially useful for the beginning student, despite its age. Includes chapters written by specialists on society, politics, economics, and security issues. Text available online.
Naylor, Phillip C. North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.
A survey of North Africa from prehistory, emphasizing transcultural influences, that is, interaction and encounters between and among peoples. Algeria receives specific as well as general attention.
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