Rewriting the veteran: gender, geography, generation and the Algerian War

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: School of Languages & Area Studies


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 wuld 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.

Planned Impact

Please see the document 'Pathways to Impact' for detailed information on how each of these groups will be engaged with.
(1) Teachers and students in Further Education in the UK. The International Baccalaureate Diploma presents the specific opportunity to study the Algerian War as part of its Wars in the 20th Century module, and whilst AS/A2 modules on decolonisation are largely focused on the British empire, the Algerian War provides a point of thematic comparison. Primary and secondary sources in English are currently limited, and this project will not only provide an English-language monograph, it also will generate classroom material and knowledge and skills-based activities specifically aimed at sixth form students.
(2) Teachers and students at all levels of education notably in Algeria and Senegal. Based on my experiences of working with students at universities in both countries, the 'eyewitness account' is either seen as an unworthy substitute for archival material or uncritically accepted as 'the truth'. Using recognisable examples as illustrative material, the monograph and the online 3,500-word chapter in the trilingual oral history manual will delineate how narratives of the past can be read as a prism through which to understand present concerns. The oral history manual in particular seeks to impact on the content and approach of university methodology units, notably those which are part of teacher training programmes.
(2) Policymakers. This project will provide policymakers with understanding of the nature of political legitimacy in Algeria and contemporary perspectives on Algerian youth - areas of vital strategic importance in the context of the 'Arab Spring'. Algeria in general has so far attracted relatively little attention from UK/ Anglophone academia, and the monograph may contribute to evidence-based policy making.
(3) Wider public. Algeria is of increasing economic and political interest in the UK and the project will help increase understanding of a small but growing Algerian community within Britain. The project is of general interest particularly to wider publics in France and Algeria. Just the most recent illustrative example is a highly publicised clash in May 2011 around issues of participation in the war and accusations of betrayal, which pitted Yacef Saadi (head of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algiers during the war) against Louisette Ighilahriz (FLN veteran and key figure in reopening the debates in France about the army's use of torture from 2000 onwards, whom I interviewed in 2005). Given the intensely politicised context of the legacy of the Algerian War, no single work can create a closer correlation between academia and public history, but my monograph would generate interest and perhaps reflection. More broadly, the project raises issues about and provides insights into the relationship between the writing of history, democracy and citizenship, areas of significant contemporary resonance.


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Description The most significant achievement of this grant was to complete the research for, and prepare for publication as a monograph, an exploration of how female veterans of the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62) viewed the post-independence state and its multiple discourses on 'the Algerian woman' in the fifty years following 1962, as well as examining how these former combatants' memories of the anti-colonial conflict intertwine with, contradict or coexist alongside the state-sponsored narrative of the war constructed after independence. This case study will, I hope, take forward in new directions the existing literature(s) on gender, nationalism and memory by enriching our understanding of the role of historical narrative in nation-building and exploring how forms of contestation manifest themselves in authoritarian regimes explicitly and implicitly through retellings of the past in alternative forms.

All the objectives of the grant were met, with the addition of a journal article (outlined below). Resulting publications/ engagement activities are listed in the relevant sections. I also presented papers at three international conferences, in Portsmouth, Leicester and in Oran in Algeria. The online chapter on 'Memory and Oral History' aimed at university students (notably in Francophone African countries) listed as an output in the original bid has been co-authored with a colleague from the University of Dakar, Ibrahima Seck, and has been completed, but we are awaiting contributions from other authors before publication.

In the course of the project, a study of the way in which younger generations of Algerians understand and frame narratives of the 1950s/60s anti-colonial conflict in a new international context became a journal article separate from the monograph project. This in turn was in part the basis for a successful funding application which I made with the British Council in Algiers to the AHRC in 2013 for a Collaborative Doctoral Award (Ref AH/L012006/1) - more details are in the 'Narrative Impact' section.

In addition, the research completed for the monograph will now be taken forward in a new research project on state-building in Algeria in the 1960s, and specifically the development of the education system. This will provide insights into key questions relating to not only post-colonial, post-conflict state-building but also generational change and shifts in gender relations. I submitted a bid for 250 thousand euros to the European Commission H2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Global Fellowships Programme in September 2015, this was rated at 99% and recommended for funding in February 2016 and this is currently in the grant preparation stage.
Exploitation Route Academic: This research uses oral history to demonstrate that narratives of the nation are not just the product of 'top down' imposition, but also the result of 'bottom up' engagement, re-appropriation or indeed misinterpretation. Exploring how individuals interact with, respond to and appropriate national pasts and how and why a dominant narrative resonates and is refracted across different generations and different sections of societies is a relatively recent development and has so far not been applied to post-colonial contexts. As a result of the monograph and journal article, academics in area studies, post-colonial studies and nationalism studies working on post-colonial contexts will, I hope, develop more studies taking such an approach.

Non-academic: Algeria remains relatively little-known in the UK, and my knowledge about Algeria, including the Algerian education system, have enabled me contribute to workshops run by the British Council in conjunction with policymakers from the Algerian Ministry of Education to set up a doctoral scheme bringing Algerian students to study in the UK (see 'Narrative Impact' for more information). In terms of contributing to more informed media/ public knowledge about Algeria, I have contributed short pieces based on the project to English-, French- and Arabic-language websites which seek to bring research to wider audiences, including policymakers. These include Jadaliyya, Textures du temps and the LSE EUROPP blog. See also: 'One-day workshop on the Algerian War for IB students' under 'Engagement activities' for how UK FE teachers might take forward the outcomes of the research.
Sectors Education,Other

Description As with many grants, the impact of this award is ongoing and has developed in directions which could not have been envisaged at the time of the original bid in 2011. The knowledge and institutional links developed in the course of the research which I carried out with staff and students at the Ecole normale supérieure (teacher training college) in Algiers about the transmission of memory and attitudes towards history enabled me to develop a very good working relationship with the British Council in Algiers. In 2013, following the In Amenas hostage crisis in the Sahara, significant efforts were placed in forging a closer relationship between the UK and Algeria. As well as trade and security, education and culture were highlighted as a key area in which bilateral ties could be strengthened. As a result, the Algerian Ministry for Higher Education and the British Council began working on a scheme to bring 100 Algerian PhD students a year to study in the UK, fully funded by the Algerian Ministry of Education. With an application process led by myself, the University of Portsmouth was one of 15 universities selected from across the UK to participate in workshops and visits to discuss and advise on the mechanics of this doctoral scheme. The scheme began 2014/15 and I continue to be closely involved in it. In addition to contributing to cultural diplomacy, this scheme is of significant economic benefit to UK HEIs [I have outlined this project in more detail under influence on policy, practice]. At the same time as this British Council-UK HEIs-Algerian HE scheme was being developed, I made a successful bid to the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme - with the British Council as collaborative partner - for a PhD student to work on the social worlds associated with the study of English in Algeria (ref AH/L012006/1). In the medium-long term this project will provide the British Council as policymakers with an evidence base to make more informed decisions, notably through (1) A greater understanding of Algerian culture and behaviour, thereby enabling the organisation to focus its work better to encourage UK-Algerian co-operation and partnership - including but not limited to the current PhD scheme; (2) A better understanding of Algerian attitudes towards French and English, enabling the British Council to direct better its English offer, which will benefit Algerian pupils and students. One of the expected impacts in the original bid was on teachers and students in FE in the UK, through the development of accessible, English-language classroom materials on the Algerian War for A level/ IB students. As outlined in 'One-day workshop on the Algerian War for IB students' under 'Engagement activities' I have begun to develop this impact strand. As a result of these initial public engagement activities, I am now contracted by Palgrave to write a 35-40,000-word introductory volume on the Algerian War and its historical controversies, which will enable me to bring knowledge about Algeria to a much wider non-specialist/ non-university audience. The publication of the monograph in 2015 has resulted in a number of invitations to speak at academic conferences and workshops, including the University of Oxford, the Centre d'histoire sociale du XXème siècle in Paris, the University of Glasgow and as part of a major international conference organised as part of Constantine (Algeria) being named UNESCO Capital of Arab Culture [see awards and recognition]. The monograph has sold well, and is in its second print run, with an e-book now available. Strong sales mean the paperback will be coming out in October 2016. Reviews are beginning to be published, with a reviewer in Modern and Contemporary France describing it as 'remarkable' and a reviewer in the Journal of North African Studies praising it as: 'Well-written and meticulously researched, Vince's book offers important insights into Algeria's past and present'.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description Briefing FCO team at British Embassy in Algiers on Algerian history, politics, culture and society
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description National advisory committee for Algerian doctoral initiative
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact In March 2014, I successfully bid for the University of Portsmouth to be one of 15 universities selected in a national competition to be part of the Algerian Doctoral Initiative, led by UK universities, the British Council and the Algerian Ministry of Higher Education, to bring 100 fully funded (fees + bursary) PhD students to the UK every year for five years. I advised on the set-up of the initial scheme and organised a delegation of Algerian academics involved to come to University of Portsmouth as part of a short tour of six UK institutions. This developed better knowledge about studying in the UK in Algeria, and better knowledge in the UK about recruiting Algerian students - an underdeveloped and potentially fruitful market. The first students began in October 2014 and the scheme is worth the equivalent of 500 x full international fees to UK HE.
Description AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award
Amount £55,827 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/L012006/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2017
Description H2020 Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions Global Fellowship
Amount € 250,105 (EUR)
Funding ID 705763 STUSOCSTA 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 09/2016 
End 08/2019
Description Leverhulme Artist in Residence
Amount £14,500 (GBP)
Funding ID AIR-­2012-­007 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2012 
End 06/2013
Description Media interest (article on representations of Algerian history following In Amenas hostage crisis) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This article about media (mis)representations of Algerian history during the January 2013 hostage crisis (In Amenas - a history of silence, not a history of violence) was widely diffused in the UK, US, France, Algeria, Germany, Lebanon and beyond. It was the subject of tweets by the Guardian, the BBC, and it was reprinted on websites including Open Democracy, the allAfrica blog,, La Nation (Francophone Algerian newspaper) and the Middle East Institute editor's blog (US).

The article was translated into French and Arabic online, and republished in Lebanese Arabic-language daily Al Akhbar. As a result of the article, I was able to make contacts with Anglophone journalists working on Algeria, and exchange knowledge with them from time to time. The author of the Middle East Institute editor's blog (US) described the article as challenging 'the Western media's received wisdom', describing it as 'a useful antidote to much superficial commentary' (
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description One-day workshop on the Algerian War for International Baccalaureate students 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This one-day workshop, with history students from City and Islington College, London, fit into their 'Wars in the 20th Century' module. This module presents the specific opportunity to study the Algerian War. I translated into English a series of primary documents (located in the course of my oral history interviews/ archival research) which were then the basis of a series of activities on the theme of 'psychological warfare'. The documents and associated activities were subsequently uploaded onto Humbox for use by the wider public:

One of the teachers who accompanied the students' visit to Portsmouth stated that the students gained an enormous amount from the study day and were very positive about the impact of the day on their understanding of the Algerian War and the module on 20th century wars more broadly. From discussions with these students and their teachers, it became clear that there is a shortage of up-to-date, accessible, English-language materials on the Algerian War aimed at an A-level/ IB (and first year undergraduate) audience, and as I result I have put together a book proposal for a short overview volume (35-40,000 words) on the Algerian War in Palgrave's Studies in European History series. This proposal has been accepted and a contract signed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012