top of page


Robert Gildea

(Worcester, Oxford)

The colonial fracture in France from Papon to Macron

Chair: Hartmut Mayer (Director Europaeum and St Antony’s, Oxford)

Discussant: Ruth Harris (All Souls, Oxford)

La Fracture coloniale, published in 2005 by the ACHAC research group, argued that memories of the Algerian War in metropolitan France were divided by the colonial experience – constructed  in one way by the so-called Français de souche, and in a totally different way by children of immigrants.

        This divided memory has been through various phases. Benjamin Stora demonstrated in La Gangrène et l’oubli (1991) that down to the period of his writing the trauma of the Algerian War was not so much forgotten as repressed. This was the ‘guerre sans nom’ whose crimes could not be discussed. Those painful memories were nevertheless played out in different ways: some pied noir and harki children cast them aside by becoming involved in radical movements around 1968, Algerian immigrants supported the PLO, and second-generation immigrants organised the Marche pour l’Égalité in 1983. Any chance of a multicultural society, however, was frustrated by the rise of the Front National and combats over laïcité.

        In a second phase, memories of France’s use of colonialist force against Algerian immigrants on 17 October 1961 became public in 1991 and were fully exposed in the 1997-8 trial of Maurice Papon. This trial triggered a battle of memories around the Algerian War, especially about torture and massacre. Far from this opening the way to a working through of memory, however, partisans of France’s record in Algeria fought back and laws on the veil and on French colonial history were passed in 2004-5. These debates and the colonial realities they exposed deepened the colonial fracture, evidenced by the Indigènes de la République, the banlieue riots of 2005 and the Islamist radicalisation of immigrant youth.

        A final part explores the difference made to memory of the Algerian War by Macron’s announcement in 2016 that colonialism was a ‘crime against humanity’. Did this represent the beginning of a working through of France’s colonial past or was it no more than a PR stunt?

Robert Gildea is Professor of Modern History at Worcester College and Research Director at the Faculty of History, University of Oxford. He works on French and European history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with  particular interests in the fall-out from the French Revolution, everyday life and resistance in the Second World War and 1968. He has written on collective memory and political culture in France and directed an international oral history project on Europe’s 1968. He is currently directing another international project on transnational approaches to resistance in Europe between the Spanish Civil War and the Cold War (1936-1948) and writing a book called ‘Empires of the mind’ on successive incarnations of empire in France and Britain from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. 

MONDAY, 28 MAY 2018 - 5.00PM


Venue: European Studies Centre, St Antony's College

70 Woodstock Road, OX2 6HR

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception

All welcome!

bottom of page