Apostles of modernity: Saint-Simonians and the civilizing mission in Algeria
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This work is a first-rate social history of the French colonial project in Algeria and the role of education in that project. It stands firmly with the canon of outstanding scholarship dealing with education, citizenship and the politics of modernity in the nineteenth-century Middle East such as Benjamin Fortna’s Imperial classroom, Gregory Starrett’s Putting Islam to work and Brinkley Messick’s Calligraphic state, to name a few titles. The work is also a reminder of how a grasp of historical processes is vitally important for understanding the prickly issues that continue to plague contemporary society.
There is no dearth of nineteenth-century colonial histories of the Maghreb but this does not preclude the need for alternative lenses and emphases. Abi-Mershed has been able to identify an overlooked topic and period which adds to an understanding of France’s civilizing project in Algeria. Namely, he focuses on how the Arabists in France’s military, members of the Arab Bureau, exerted...