Alcohol in North Africa and in the Levant during French colonisation

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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

[Symposium Podcasts]


"Alcohol in North Africa and in Levant during the French colonization"


Dr Nessim Znaien

History, Pantheon Sorbonne University, Paris, France


I currently manage a research project looking into the role and impact of alcohol in the French Empire during the colonial period, from the 1830s to 1950s. Financed by a French foundation,   «La Fondation pour la Recherche en Alcoologie», the project began in 2014 and is set to continue through until 2020. For the first two years, my research team has explored the question of alcohol in colonial North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), and the Levant (Syria and Lebanon), and I would be delighted to present the conclusions of our research to date at your symposium.


Our research has so far considered the extent to which alcohol consumption within Arab societies differed between the beginning and end of the French colonial period, and whether there was any noticeable development in the debate surrounding alcohol within different sectors of local society, such as the medical sphere for example. This question can be an interesting gateway to analyse the main changes in the daily life of the colonial societies during the colonisation. We have tried to establish whether rates of alcoholism increased within these societies during this time, and how local government subsequently reacted to this phenomenon. Our primary aim has been to identify whether there was any consistency in approach to the issue of alcohol consumption across the French Empire during this period, whilst assessing the role of other global factors and local culture at the same time. One of the aim of this work is to make some differences between alcohol's situation in societies from North Africa and from the Middle East.


To carry out this research, my team has drawn on extensive archive material within French administration record offices, hospitals, courts and police stations, as well as source material from novels and local newspapers written in French and Arabic. The project tries to address the current lack of French academic research to date on alcohol in a colonial context. Very little research had been done on this question within the French Empire, and absolutely nothing within the Arab world. The contrast is especially stark when compared with similar research looking at alcohol consumption within the British Commonwealth during the same period.


I would like to present a completely fresh look on how alcohol consumption crosses cultural boundaries and I feel this symposium offers a great opportunity to reflect on the contrast between French Empire and mainland France, British colonial Empire and Great Britain, as well as other Empires from Antiquity to the present day.



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