Jennifer Sessions is Associate Professor of History at the University of Iowa. As a historian of modern France and its empire, she is interested in the relationship between colonialism and French politics, culture and society. Her first book, By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest of Algeria (Cornell University Press, 2011), used the methods of cultural history to explain the origins of the French conquest and settler colonization of Algeria in the 1830s and 1840s. It was awarded the 2011 Boucher Book Prize from the French Colonial Historical Society. Since completing By Sword and Plow, which focused on Algeria’s place in the contested political culture of postrevolutionary France, she has been looking more closely at the dynamics of French settler colonialism in North Africa. Sessions has previously been a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress. She is currently working on two studies of French Algeria that combine cultural with social and political history, one on the equestrian statue that stood on the Place du Gouvernement of Algiers throughout the colonial period and the other, which will be the focus of her work at the IEA, on the settler village of Margueritte (now Aïn Torki) and the uprising that took place there in 1901.
The Margueritte Affair is a “global microhistory” of a short-lived 1901 revolt against French rule in central Algeria and the public debate about the character of French settler colonialism in Algeria that was sparked by the trial of the accused rebels in Montpellier in 1902-03. Drawing on the voluminous judicial files from the case, administrative archives, and newspaper and literary accounts, the book situates the uprising and trial within the contexts of French settlement in Algeria, Algerian traditions of popular Islam, the symbolic economy of colonial prestige, the Dreyfus Affair and the settler anti-Jewish movement of the 1890s, and global debates about the relationship between settler colonies and their metropoles at the dawn of the twentieth century. By focusing closely on Margueritte and taking advantage of the archive generated by the events of 1901, the book aims to offer a new portrait of everyday life and the unexpectedly complex social relations in rural colonial Algeria the relationships between social, religious, and political violence in French North Africa, and the specificities of colonial violence in settler contexts.