"Wine and Absinthe Consumption Among French and Muslim Groups in Nineteenth-century Algeria”

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“Alcohol flows across cultures: Drinking cultures in transnational and comparative perspective”

International Research Symposium, St Anne’s College, Oxford, 29–30 June 2016

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“The Same Drink? Wine and Absinthe Consumption Among French and Muslim Groups in Nineteenth-century Algeria”


Dr Nina Salouâ Studer, History, University of Bern, Switzerland

Department of History, University of Berne, Switzerland


This paper proposes to give a brief overview of alcoholism in the colonial Maghreb by looking at the descriptions of a) two different kinds of alcohol and alcoholism (absinthe and absinthism vs. wine and 'winism'), and b) the different social and ethnic groups who consumed them on a regular basis, in the French medical discourse. The main sources for this paper consist of colonial hygiene handbooks for settlers, but other published texts, such as articles, dissertations and conference reports, will also be used.


Absinthe was introduced to the Maghreb in the 1830s with the military conquest of Algeria, and by the 1870s ‘the green poison’ had become the drink of choice for European settlers, soldiers, and, allegedly, the colonised North Africans, who, it was implied, had an “innate” penchant for it. European settlers in North Africa had been drinking imported wine since before the French conquest of the region but it was only after the phylloxera crisis in France in the 1870s that wine began to be cultivated in the Maghreb, which further raised the levels of consumption. The colonial discourse implied that wine remained an almost exclusively French drink that was only consumed by the colonised elites. It was often suggested in the colonial medical sources that while wine led to a specifically Gallic form of drunkenness, defined by its friendly jolliness, absinthe made the consumers violent, mad, or otherwise deviant.


The colonialmedical experts wrote extensively about wine and absinthe, drinks that represented, and still represent, France. Some described them as hygienic options; some classed them as either good or bad, pitting them against each other; some saw them as unhygienic only when consumed by certain immoderate groups (i.e. the colonised, women, the lower classes); while others tried to exclude all forms of alcohol from colonial diets.



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