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Book Proposal


Relevant Fields: Native American Studies, Comparative Colonialism, Modern Middle East and North Africa, United States History

This work is a comparative study of the establishment of settler colonies in the American Midwest (1778-1795) and French colonial Algeria (1830-1848). It examines how interactions between the Indigenous populations, colonists, colonial administrators, the military, and the métropole shaped their development and contributes to the nascent theorization of settler colonialism. This study centers on the first twenty years of conquest and occupation in the American Midwest, focusing specifically on southern Illinois and Indiana, and the province of Constantine, Algeria. Despite differences in geography, relative size of the military presence and Indigenous demographics, the process of establishing settler colonies in both locations followed similar trajectories. The study analyzes the founding moment of initial military occupation in Indiana/Illinois in 1778 and Algeria in 1830, as well as subsequent land policies, settlement, and Indigenous resistance movements.

I argue that settler colonies in the American Midwest and Algeria resulted from a bottom-up process in which settler desires for land and greater economic opportunities compelled them to migrate (or emigrate) and stake their claim to these territories. This movement then served as a catalyst for initially makeshift colonial policies that only became systematized over time. The relationship between settlers and the Indigenous populations in both locations as well as administrators’ responses to prevailing circumstances on the ground (often not of their own choosing) shaped the establishment of stable settler governments.

This research broadens our conceptions of both American and Algerian history and deepens our understanding of the processes by which settler colonies formed and “worked.” Settler colonialism’s legacy continues to influence geopolitics, national policy decisions, and people’s daily lives. Hence, the formation and structures of settler colonialism are germane to understanding a widespread phenomenon foundational to many contemporary societies and to uncover a holistic knowledge of empire, settler roles, and Indigenous actions within colonial contexts. This knowledge is especially important in modern settler societies where settler colonialism is no longer visible but perceived as “normal.” To deconstruct settler epistemologies, this study exposes the processes and institutions of settler colonialism in the American Wabash Valley and Constantine, Algeria, as well as Indigenous and settler influences on their forms and limits.


Introduction: Uncharted Territory

Chapter 1: Context

Chapter one delves into each metropole’s political life and describes the geo-political context of the Ohio and Wabash River Valleys in what is now the United States and Algeria on the precipice of colonization to provide a framework through which to understand and interpret subsequent events. The Algerian province of Constantine and Illinois/Indiana in the United States provide an interesting and useful comparison because of their importance to each colonial endeavor. Geographically, both were fertile inland regions that, at the time of occupation and colonization, bordered other imperial territories and were important sites of agriculture and trade. They were strategically significant for military purposes and to gain access to lucrative commercial networks. The indigenous populations in both areas practiced extensive agriculture, were already diverse culturally, linguistically, and religiously, and had long-established relations with the colonizers through trade. This chapter also exposes the ways in which Native communities and settlers in each region viewed land use and rights, which sets the stage for the competition that ensued between them during the founding moments examined in this dissertation.

Chapters two through four examine “moments,” or stages, in the process of establishing settler colonies and compare what these moments looked like in two different contexts. Rather than fitting events to theories, this work is grounded in the historical context of each setting. I examine the similar processes and structures of settler colonization in comparison across time, space, and cultures for what they reveal about settler colonialism more generally. The differences that emerge reveal how individual geographic locations, peoples, and historical contexts shaped the ways in which settler colonies were created and developed. As a work of historical inquiry, it reminds us that it is important to remain sensitive to chronology, the contingent nature of events, and the variety of actors who shaped those events.

Chapter 2: Conquest

Chapter two compares the initial American military incursions into the Old Northwest Territory (the American Midwest) in 1778-9 and the French conquest of Algiers in 1830. It uncovers the primary colonizing and Indigenous actors, what was at stake for each, and the methods used to achieve their objectives. Both the French conquest of Algeria and the expansion of the United States into the Old Northwest Territory, the present-day “Midwest” region, marked the beginning of new colonial eras for both métropoles. For France, the conquest and subsequent “settlement” of Algiers inaugurated its “second colonial empire.” As the United States fought for its own independence from England, Americans began an assault on Midwestern Native American tribes, their land, and the British who claimed the territory. As in Algeria, settlers moved in on the heels of the military, and the young United States government became the head of a nation but also a nascent settler empire. Thus, the “conquests” of these regions marked the commencement of two settler colonies as well as significant periods of metropolitan change. In recognition of the importance of founding moments, this study compares the origins of these settler colonies with the understanding that they were also highly significant for the métropoles, even if recognized as such only in retrospect.

Chapter 3: Colonization

Chapter three examines the extension of the conquest beyond the initial villages/cities occupied and the simultaneous processes of land surveying, dispossession, and settlement. Throughout the first two decades of colonization, both Constantine and the American Midwest became important sites of Indigenous resistance as well. A number of powerful competing Native groups resided in both places, some of which saw advantages in siding with the colonizers against neighboring Indigenous communities. The colonizers sought to capitalize on these divisions to achieve their objectives, which were also similar in both locations, as were some of their methods. Each wanted to populate the territory with small freeholders, as quickly as possible by legal (treaties) or extra-legal means (forcefully acquiring land). However, France never achieved a colony of freeholders like the United States did, which provides an interesting point of comparison between the two.

The nature of initial settlement, the settlers themselves, and the circumstances surrounding conquest and occupation suggest that the founding moments were important to the development of each settler colony. Colonists migrated to the American Midwest to farm, but many settlers in Algeria took advantage of the extensive trade networks and established themselves in urban communities. Both sought to abolish Native communities’ communal land rights by instituting various measures to force the division of land into individual holdings and developed reservation systems for Indigenous societies (in Algeria, called cantonnement). One important contrast between the two colonies was the significance of land to individual settlers. While a small number of Europeans bought large tracts of Algerian land, a majority of individuals and families settled in towns, as opposed to the American Midwest, where the majority of the settlers bought land to farm.[1] The obvious reason for this difference was the availability of houses in extant cities in Algeria, which did not exist in America in the same way.[2] Only sections of a relatively narrow band of land about 200 miles wide along the coast of Algeria was available for farming and since the military launched total war on the land and its people hundreds of acres of trees and crops were destroyed, making it less appealing for those who sought quick returns on their investment. There were also fewer barriers to European entry into Algerian commercial networks than those Americans faced in Indian Country. Europeans flocked to Algerian cities to establish their shops and provide services and commodities other settlers desired in their new homeland. This calls into question scholars’ assumption that land was the primary motivating factor in settler colonialism.

Chapter 4: Control

Colonization began in both regions before the métropole gave its official assent and was therefore left to acknowledge the colonies and craft legislation ex-post-facto, which suggests that these settler colonies began from bottom-up impulses and processes, making the actions of the settlers, Indigenous people, and the military even more significant. Chapter four looks at the final moment of the initial phase of settler colonization when metropolitan policies began to catch up to the reality on the ground and when the military and metropole begin to work in greater harmony. In America, it traces the treaties of the 1780s, Indigenous resistance movements and American counterattacks through the Indian Confederacy’s defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers against American General Anthony Wayne’s forces in 1794. It places particular emphasis on the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which established a template for integrating colonized lands into the United States as territories under the administration of the US government and eventually as states. It then uncovers similar French land policies in Algeria, the role of Indigenous leaders in fighting, fleeing, or accommodating the French, as well as the discursive moves the French government made to justify their acquisition of Indigenous lands.

Chapter 5: Comparisons

I am not the first to make the remarkable comparison between the colonization of French Algeria and that of United States’ territories. Rather, mid-nineteenth century French statesmen conscientiously used the United States as a benchmark of progress in their Algerian endeavor.[3]  This may account for at least some of the similarities in the colonies’ trajectories. However, it does not explain all of them, particularly those in the initial phases of conquest. The congruency between the stages of settler colonial development in modern Indiana and Illinois and French Algeria suggest commonalities in the formation of settler colonies more broadly. This chapter explores the theoretical implications of this comparison. An examination of Anglo-American and French settler colonial projects extends scholarly discussions beyond comparisons of former British colonies, thereby making possible broader claims about the nature of settler colonialism.


[1] More than 60 percent of settlers in Algeria lived in urban areas. (David Prochaska, Making Algeria French, 11). For this reason, Constantine is especially important because it was one of the largest cities in Algeria, and as Prochaska notes, “whoever controlled the urban centers, especially the major cities of the littoral, controlled to a large extent what went on in the colony itself” (Ibid).

[2] Although some American frontier homes resembled Indigenous structures, settlers would not have lived in Indian homes, even if they had had the opportunity. However, there were few occasions in which they would have been able to make the choice, as many Indigenous structures were portable and thus migrated with the Indian communities or were destroyed during frontier warfare.

[3] Governor-General MacMahon on France’s “progress” in Algeria in 1870:

On arrival in America, the Europeans found a territory of immense expanse, inhabited by a population, which by comparison, was insignificant. Understanding the advantages of colonization, of civilization, they were able, without great injustice, to repel the hunters who were before them in the vast forests that covered a part of the country, forests in which these people were able to continue to live by hunting as they had in the past.

It is not the same in Algeria, where the Europeans found a limited territory, inhabited by a population of 2,500,000 inhabitants of a proud, energetic, [and] militant race, who in every case had the enjoyment of all of the country’s land, and who, moreover were supported more or less directly by the Muslim country which neighbored it. …

I regret that M. Michel Chevalier, who reported to us very interesting documents from the United States, has not I believe been obliged to visit our colony.  I think that if he had traveled not only the cities in the Littoral, but the agricultural centers of the interior, he would have had better impressions of the state of the country.  I believe it to be true to say that these centers, with the exception of a very small number, which were established principally in less-viable and unfavorable conditions, are in a satisfactory state.  The occasional hardships through three years of drought and from diverse scourges are today in great part repaired and the villages are in a state of prosperity equal at least to that of the villages of France. [Patrice de Mac Mahon, duc de Magenta, “Discours au Sénat du duc de Magenta sur une pétition relative à la constitution de l’Algérie” (Paris, 1870), pp. 4-5. Centre des Archives d’outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence, France. File: F/ 80/ 1681. Author’s translation.]

Patrice de MacMahon — royalist, Commander of the Foreign Legion, proud Governor-General of the French Algeria he had helped to conquer, future Prime Minister and President of the French Republic — could hardly leave unanswered the unfavorable comparisons between America and Algeria published in the parliamentary journals by the well-known statesman, engineer, and traveler, Michel Chevalier. Using immigration, Indigenous policy, and industrialization as evaluative criteria, Chevalier found Algeria sadly lacking. Mac-Mahon’s rebuttal, which he sent from Algeria to be read before the French Senate in 1870, maintained that, given the immense and hostile Indigenous population the French faced in Algeria, their colonization project was proceeding well by 1870. [Moncure Robinson, “Obituary Notice of Michel Chevalier,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 19, no. 107 (1880): 28-37.]

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