Immigrants become settlers by dispossessing the Indigenous population. This is the driving force behind settler colonialism, according to Patrick Wolfe’s formative work. The expropriation of land that lies at the heart of settler colonialism has left a legacy that continues to influence geopolitics, inter/national policies, and people’s daily lives around the world. My research compares the plantation of settler colonies in the American Midwest (1778-1795) and French Algeria (1830-1848). It is grounded in archival research conducted primarily at the Newberry Library, the Ohio Valley-Great Lakes Ethnohistory Archive, Centre des Archives d’outre-mer (CAOM), Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Château de Vincennes. The study examines how interactions between the Indigenous populations, colonists, colonial administrators, the military, and the métropole shaped colonial governance. Using military reports, correspondence, treaty council minutes, newspapers, legislation, Parliamentary and Congressional minutes, and memoirs, I analyze the founding moment of initial military occupation in Indiana/Illinois and Constantine, as well as subsequent land policies, settlement, and Indigenous resistance movements.
In spite of differences in geography, the relative size of the military presence, and Indigenous demographics, my project has uncovered the similar paths both colonies took from conquest through the establishment of stable settler governments. 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 and stake their claim to these territories by dispossessing Indigenous communities. This movement then served as a catalyst for makeshift metropolitan policies that only became systematized and institutionalized at the end of the first decade of colonization.
Nineteenth-century French statesmen, such as Gouverner Général Patrice de MacMahon and Monsieur Michel Chevalier, used the United States as a benchmark in their analysis of Indigenous relations and the rate of colonization in Algeria. However, scholars have not yet followed in their footsteps. Consequently, this first scholarly comparison argues that the United States became an important model for modern settler colonialism and Indigenous policy. Likewise, Algeria has long been considered a model of European settler colonialism, but the process of its formation required further study. Furthermore, previous studies of settler colonial governance have focused almost exclusively on the actions of administrators, whereas my study reveals the ways in which settler and Indigenous populations also shaped the colony and its governance. My research, then, contributes to the burgeoning theorization of settler colonialism by exposing the processes by which settler colonies were formed and “worked”.
Thus far, I have drafted several articles, which I am submitting for publication in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Comparative Studies in Society and History, and Settler Colonial Studies. These articles examine the French conquest of Constantine, the effects of French colonial land policy on Algerian property holders, and comparative settler colonialism. Upon the request of the acquisitions editor, I have also submitted my book proposal to University of Nebraska Press for a new series, co-sponsored by the American Philosophical Society, on Native American History.
Based on findings from my dissertation research, I have developed plans for two additional research projects. The first will examine the development of settler colonies after initial formation through the creation of stable semi-autonomous settler governments in the American Midwest and French Algeria. This study seeks to understand how the relationship between settlers and the Indigenous populations in both locations, as well as administrators’ responses to prevailing circumstances on the ground shaped the establishment of stable settler governments. Using colonial administration reports, correspondence, newspapers, legislation, and Parliamentary and Congressional records, this project will investigate the incorporation of the colonies into the métropole through the transition of colonies to territories to states in the United States and through the annexation of Algeria to France. Additionally, it will look at the development of parallel institutions, such as the bureaus of Indigenous affairs, as well as the suppression of Indigenous resistance, and the organization of semi-autonomous civil settler governments. In Constantine, Algeria, the focus will be the years 1848-1871 and in the American Midwest, 1795-1832.
The second project will compare Indigenous strategies of persistence in settler colonies. For Indigenous communities, simply living and persisting as a people was an act of rebellion against the settler state. Thus, this study will call into question the dichotomy of resistance/accommodation that scholars have used to describe colonizer-colonized relationships in the past. Instead, it posits that an examination of the diverse ways in which Indigenous people persisted in settler colonies offers a more nuanced understanding of colonial relations, agency, and the limits of colonial power. While in the CAOM, I discovered the memoir of Constantine’s Ottoman governor, Hadj Ahmed-Bey, who led the resistance against the French in eastern Algeria. In addition, I found twenty of Hadj Ahmed Bey’s letters that the French had intercepted between 1838 and 1848, which form the seeds for this study. The rest of Hadj Ahmed Bey’s letters, along with the records of other mid-nineteenth century Algerian notables, are housed in the Algerian national archives, where I will continue my research. Additionally, I will return to the CAOM and Château de Vincennes to examine Bureaux Arabes and military records between 1848 and 1871. For the Native American portion of this comparison, I will look at treaty records, settler journals and correspondence, Congressional records, and legislation. While the colonizers wrote many of these records, scholars of Indigenous history have demonstrated that reading sources “backward” or “against the grain” offers a window into communities for which few Indigenous written records exist.
My initial work and these two subsequent projects make important interventions into the burgeoning field of settler colonial studies. In order to address the issues of settler colonialism’s past and its present-day ramifications, we must understand the structures of settler colonies, how power functioned, as well as when, where, why, and how they formed in the first place. One of the crucial moments in every settler colony occurs when settlers are granted semi-autonomous or autonomous rule. The events, policies, and institutions put in place leading up to that moment shape the eventual form of the settler colonial government. However, settlers themselves and the Indigenous population were significant actors in these processes. Their interactions with each other and with the colonial government in the early years of colonization influenced subsequent legislation, perceptions, as well as everyday relations and opportunities for years to come, even after decolonization, as in the case of France and Algeria. My current and future research sheds light on crucial relations between Indigenous leaders, colonial administrators, military leaders, and settlers that shaped the formation of settler colonies in the American Midwest and French Algeria from the moment of initial invasion and occupation through the establishment of settler governments. These three projects recognize and highlight the agency of Indigenous and colonial actors ignored in prior works and further develop the nascent theorization of settler colonial studies.