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Recovering Jewish Lives and Livelihoods in the History of Medicine in Algeria

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Amphitheater

Abstract

There were almost as many Algerian Jews as there were Muslims in Algeria’s colonial medical service. c. 1930-1962, and together these groups outnumbered European medics. Despite these professional demographics, extant literature on medicine and colonialism has concentrated heavily on medicine as an expression of French power within a colonial framework. Where scholarship does seek to engage local, rather than European, perspectives on medicine, the tendency has been to assume a proto-nationalist view of Algerian state and society and so to equate ‘local’ with ‘Muslim’. As a consequence, the role and significance of Jewish doctors within Algerian medicine and public health have not been documented, let alone understood. This paper is a first step towards restoring Algerian Jews to their place within the history of medicine in twentieth-century Algeria.
While Jewish doctors shared some experiences in common—notably, for those in practice in 1942, that of exclusion and internment under Vichy rule—they were not a homogenous group and there can be no single account of Jewish participation in medicine. Based on analysis of medical theses, scientific journals, French- and Arabic-language newspapers, and archival documents, I sketch out Jewish participation in three areas of medical life: university teaching and research in Algiers, urban private practice, and colonial medical service in the Algerian hinterlands. The remainder of the paper asks what can be gleaned of the working lives and professional identities of Jewish médecins de colonisation (doctors of colonisation) from colonial administrative records and published sources. Ultimately, incorporating Jewish historical experiences requires us to rethink existing analytical frameworks and narratives around “colonial” medicine and its “local” practitioners.

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