Lost in Translation: Language and Colonial Rule in Nineteenth-Century French Algeria


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


French Studies and History


This dissertation provides a social and political history of translation in French Algeria from the 1830s to the 1880s, charting a path from the colonial state’s early promises for a polyglot empire to the ultimate implosion of such hopes. Drawing upon the colonial state’s French- and Arabic-language archives, this project weaves together a study of bureaucratic procedures, a social history of translation, and attention to communicative praxis. Although translators were required for daily communication between French administrators, European colonists, and diverse local populations, they struggled to bridge the gap between French bureaucratic process and Algerian communicative practices. Foregrounding the distinctive understandings and uses of language employed by French Algeria’s burgeoning social groups, “Lost in Translation” locates imperial power at the unstable intersection of formalized administrative procedures, informal communicative practices, and the dynamic cadre of translators tasked with facilitating understanding between the colonizer and the colonized.