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The Algerian War in the French education system : a case study of the transmission of memory

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posted on 18.05.2017, 08:25 by Jo McCormack
This thesis examines memory and its transmission through a case study of the Algerian war of national independence in terminale history classes in France. It argues that while these classes may, in relative terms, be an important vector of "memory" for the young, in absolute terms very little information is transmitted. Indeed, as currently taught, the history of the Algerian war is increasingly partial, fragmentary and selective. This is clearly shown through a study of both written and oral sources, including particularly textbooks and extensive interviews with pupils, teachers and historians. Various theories of memory are referred to in order to explain this position, as are a number of practical considerations. It is argued that, at the national/collective level, the past still to a large extent determines the present desire to live together. History classes continue to play an important role in this process (despite significant changes in social formations). More specifically, the complex relationship between individual and collective constructions of the past is examined by discussing the experiences of both teachers and pupils. Particular attention is given here to the way in which a collective "French" memory is transmitted to children of immigrant origin. The way the war is taught serves both to reflect and to determine its wider social commemoration, and history lessons thus contribute to the generational transformation of this memory that may now be observed. The thesis concludes that it is more accurate to talk now of an almost total French "ignorance" of the Algerian war, rather than of the psychological "repression" conventionally associated with the conflict. Moreover, the continued existence of competing accounts of the war on the part of mutually hostile interest groups serves further to limit its discussion, as does the weakness of other vectors of memory. The stakes of the Algerian "memory-war'? are still high, as selective comparisons with the Vichy experience reveal. It seems ultimately that the Algerian war is examined sufficiently to avoid the emergence of significant resentment from any quarter, but not adequately to permit any genuine questioning of what remains a little known period of the French past.



  • Social Sciences


  • Politics and International Studies


© Jo McCormack

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.



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