Settler Soldiers: Military Service and the Construction of Identity in French Algeria, 1830-1939


Settlers migrated to the colonial territory of French Algeria from a range of European countries over the course of the nineteenth century. Only in 1889 and 1893, more than half a century after the initial French conquest, did naturalisation laws made these diverse Europeans into French citizens. Using military service as a case study, my current research analyses the influence of the transnational origins and affiliations of the settlers on their sense of identity and belonging. Considered a fundamental duty of citizenship and the ultimate expression of patriotism, military service has long been regarded as integral to national identity and to the republican social contract in France, especially under the Third Republic (1870-1940). The army therefore offers a useful lens through which to examine the interactions between local, national, imperial and transnational loyalties as they unfolded on the ground in both Algeria and in France. In particular, military service allows us to see what the French state expected of its new citizens, what they in turn demanded from France, and how this compared to the duties and expectations placed upon other communities within French Algeria.