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Abstract

“Les Éléments de l’Empire: Cultural Construction and Civilization in 19th Century French Algeria” examines the mentality behind the 19th century colonization of French Algeria, via a French museum established in Algiers in 1838. French documents from the period pertaining to the museum overwhelmingly reveal an association between retrieving artifacts from the Roman Empire and establishing the French Empire in Algeria. Yet “indigenous” artifacts receive progressively greater attention as colonization proceeds. The museum’s founder, Adrien Berbrugger, plays a particularly important role, as does the museum’s connection to the academic community and the colonial administration. Consequently, this paper also examines the historical context surrounding the French conquest of the region, as well as the ensuing “civilizing mission” towards Algeria’s “indigenous” inhabitants. By analyzing the treatment of both Roman and “indigenous” objects, it becomes evident how these artifacts began to convey a uniquely French interpretation of Algerian history, and furthermore illustrated a growing conflation of French and Algerian identities.

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