History on Display: Vikings

by pamela on March 27, 2015

As those of you who hang out here in the Margins know, I’ve had my head down recently working on a big project. No new blog posts! No road trips! No museum visits.! No history just for the fun of it!

As soon as I got a moment to breathe, My Own True Love and I headed to an exhibit at the Field Museum that’s been calling our name for a while: Vikings.

Organized by the Swedish Historical Museum, the exhibit is an answer to every misconception about Viking culture that ever caught the public imagination, beginning with the word Viking, which was not the name of a people but a description of an activity.* As the exhibit makes clear, the Scandinavian region was home to several related cultures over a period of some three hundred years, give or take a decade.** People weren’t Vikings, they went a-viking: which included travel and trade as well as the infamous raids immortalized by Irish monks. Most of the people we think of as Vikings were farmers not raiders.

Here are are some of the exhibit highlights (which may tell you as much about my own history nerd fascinations as the exhibit itself):

  • A small Indian bronze of the Buddha was found in a Viking cache, emblematic of the fact that those guys really traveled!
  • The only contemporary accounts of the Vikings we have are those written by eighth century Irish monks and an tenth century Islamic traveler named Ibn Fadlan, who ran into a group of Vikings in Russia****–neither unbiased nor familiar with Viking culture from the inside. The first accounts that we have written from the Viking perspective date from around 1220 CE: the works of Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson. Writing well past the end of the Viking era no matter how loosely it is defined, Snorri is the source of most of what we know about old Norse religion and practices. (More on Snorri in the coming months, I guarantee it.)
  • Viking boatThis recreation of a Viking boat from the outline of the hardware with which it was made. In my imagination this is how an archaeologist sees things, building a complete image from the smallest remains.  (You’ll have to come to the exhibit just to get a better look at the boat, which is far more cool than my limited photographic skills would suggest.)
  • It came as no surprise that Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. I was, however, surprised to learn that the first known appearance of the horned helmet appeared in 1876 in the first appearance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Possibly no other costume designer has influenced the world view of so many. (I would like to point out that though the exhibit regular proclaimed itself a NO HORNS zone, that prohibition did not carry over to the gift shop.)

In short, Vikings is a gorgeous combination of archaeological artifacts (many of them never before seen outside Scandinavia), historical recreation, and interactive museum technology–well worth a visit. The Field Museum is the only US stop for this exhibit, which will run through October 4, 2015. If you’re in Chicago, make time to see it. If you’re interested seriously interested in Vikings, it might be worth a special trip.*****

*Despite its inaccuracy, I’m going to continue using the term, which has become useful shorthand. Feel free to substitute Old Norse etc in your head.
**The canonical start and stop dates are the raid on the monastery at Lindnisfarne in 793CE and the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, at which King Harald of England successfully defended is kingdom against an invasion by Harald Hardrada of Norway.*** In fact, as is often the case, archaeological evidence suggests the periodization is fuzzy at both ends.
***Less than a month before the Battle of Hastings, when another group of Viking descendants invaded England from France.
****Medieval Muslims could give the Vikings a run for their money as far as traveling went.
*****Gina Conkle, I’m looking at you.


The Fall of the Ottomans

by pamela on March 24, 2015

Last year I spent a lot of time and virtual ink on books about World War I. When the year came to an end, I had to take a breather. But this one was too good to let pass:

Western histories of the First World War often focus on the trench warfare on the Western front. When they do discuss the campaigns at Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, they generally tell the story from the Western point of view. In The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, historian Eugene Rogan (The Arabs: A History) looks at the war from the often-overlooked perspective of the Ottoman Empire.

Rogan’s story is as complicated as the multi-ethnic empire at its heart. He describes the forces of internal revolution, external wars, lost provinces and lost confidence that led the Ottomans to seek an ally against Russian aggression in the early months of 1914–and how those same forces shaped Ottoman choices throughout the war. He tells the familiar stories of Gallipoli and the Mesopotamian campaign from an unfamiliar vantage point and the less familiar story of Turkey’s fight against Russia on the Caucasian front.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the recurring question of the relative power of Islam, national identity and ethnicity within the Ottoman world, beginning with Germany’s unfulfilled hope that the Ottoman declaration of war would be seen as an act of jihad, thereby triggering rebellions among Muslim subjects of the British and French empires.* Rogan handles the tricky subjects of jihad, secularism, Arab nationalism, and Turkish paranoia about a possible Armenian fifth column with historical precision and a keen awareness of their implications for the modern world.

* I first came across this idea in John Buchan‘s Greenmantle. Greenmantle is one of my favorite novels, but I always thought the concept was over the top. I was stunned to discover that it was an actual piece of German policy–minus some of Buchan’s wilder flourishes.

The guts of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers


“Oriental” Jones

by pamela on March 21, 2015

Sir William Jones

Sir William Jones (1746-1794), known to his contemporaries as “Oriental” Jones, was one of the great eighteenth century polymaths. He was a linguist, what was then called an Orientalist,* and a successful public intellectual–the kind of scholar who is able to make abstruse topics not only accessible but exciting.

Jones started early with his love of language: he reportedly learned Persian from a Syrian merchant in London and translated the poems of Hafiz into English at the age of sixteen . Over the course of his life he studied twenty-eight languages including not only Latin and Greek, but German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian and Turkish, several South Asian languages, and a smattering of Chinese.

By the time he received his bachelor of arts from Oxford in 1768, Jones had already become known as a scholar of all things “Oriental”–by which he and his contemporaries meant South Asia and the Middle East. The King of Denmark hired him to translate a biography of the emperor Nadir Shah from Persian into French. Published in 1770, the translation secured Jones’ reputation as translator and linguist. He was only 24.

Over the next thirteen years, Jones published a number of works related to the language and culture of the Islamic world , including the authoritative A Grammar of the Persian Language (1771), which he later translated into French, and a translation of seven famous pre-Islamic poems from Arabic that Tennyson later claimed as an inspiration . During this period, he also published a volume of his own poetry , in which he combined classical conventions with Islamic themes and imagery. (Anyone feeling a tad inadequate at this point will be pleased to know that his poems are workmanlike but not inspired. His biographer describes them as “minor classics”, but that’s generous.)

Like many a modern adjunct professor, Jones soon found it was difficult to make a living as an independent scholar, so he turned to the study of law. He was called to the bar in 1774. Working as a barrister, an attorney, and an Oxford fellow, he made a name for himself as a legal scholar and translated manuscripts in his spare time. He also became known for his pro-American sympathies, traveling to Paris three times during the American Revolution to meet with Benjamin Franklin regarding the military and political situation. In fact, it was rumored that he intended to emigrate America to help write the new country’s constitution. (The mind boggles at the image of Jones and Madison in collaboration.)

It was perhaps inevitable that a cash-strapped attorney with a talent for languages and a fascination with the Orient would end up in India in the service of the British East India Company.**  Jones was engaged to be married,but didn’t have the income to support a wife. When a lucrative job as a judge on the supreme court of the British East India Company’s Bengal Presidency became available, he asked his friends to help him secure the position. Evidently his reputation as a legal scholar and Orientalist outweighed his reputation as a pro-American troublemaker. In 1783, Jones and his new wife sailed to Calcutta.

If Jones had not already earned the nickname “Oriental”, he certainly deserved it after his arrival in India. Many employees of the British East India Company hired local instructors to help them with Bengali, Hindi or Persian. Jones took the unusual step of adding Sanskrit to the list, making him the second Englishman known to have learned the language. During his eleven years in Calcutta, Jones founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal–a Calcutta variation on the Royal Society with an emphasis on “oriental” subjects. In addition to his semi-official work on Indian legal systems, he wrote extensively on Indian history, religion, languages, literature, botany and music. He translated a number of works of Indian literature into English, including Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda , the collection of fables known as the Hitopadesa, and the Laws of Manu, the first step in a compilation of Hindu and Muslim law intended to improve justice in British courts in India.

His most influential translation was Sakuntala, the masterwork of fourth century Indian poet and playwright Kalidasa, whom Jones described as “the Shakespeare of India”. Published in 1789, Jones’ Sakuntala went into five editions in twenty years–a best seller in eighteenth century terms–and was translated into German in 1791 and French in 1803. It is considered one of the most important influences on the first generation of Romantic poets

Most important, his study of Sanskrit led Jones to postulate a common source for what came to be known as the Indo-European languages. In his 1786 presidential discourse to the Asiatic Society, Jones described the relationships he had found between Sanskrit, Latin and Greek, which he believed were too strong to be accidental, and suggested that they not only had “some common source, which perhaps no longer exists”, but were also related to the Gothic, Celtic and Persian languages. That single paper was the beginning of comparative philology

Jones died in Calcutta in April, 1794, exhausted by his twin pursuits of legal studies and Orientalism. His digest of Indian legal systems was incomplete, but he had effectively founded the academic disciplines of comparative philology and Indology (South Asian studies in modern college catalogs) and introduced the first generation of Romantic poets to a broader vision of the world.

* For purposes of this blog post, I am going to ignore the complications that now surround the term Orientalism. Otherwise we’ll be here all day.

**Just a reminder, at this point India was not a colony of the British government. The British East India Company held the right to administer various regions of the subcontinent as a vassal of the Mughal emperor. While this would increasingly become no more than a political fiction, in the 1780s it was still very much a political reality.


I currently have my head down trying to finish a big project that I’m excited about. Instead of driving myself crazy trying to write blog posts at the same time or, worse, “going dark” I’ll be running some of my favorite posts from the past for the next little while. Enjoy. And I’ll see you soon.

Blackbeard the pirate. Digital ID: psnypl_rbk_1073. New York Public Library

When is a pirate not a pirate? When he’s got a license to steal.

From the 16th through the mid-19th centuries, governments issued licenses, called letters of marque, to private ship owners that gave them permission to attack foreign shipping in times of war. Called privateers, these government-sanctioned pirates were an inexpensive way for governments to patrol the seas. Private investors outfitted warships in the hope of earning a profit from plunder taken from enemy merchants.

Unlike pirates, privateers had rules they had to follow. They were only allowed to attack enemy ships during times of war. Sometimes their commissions limited them to a specific area or to attacking the ships of a specific country. In exchange for following the rules, they would be treated as prisoners of war if they were captured.

In fact, it was sometimes hard to tell a privateer from a pirate. If a privateer attacked foreign shipping in peace time, interfered with the ships of neutral countries, or was just too violent, he was sometimes treated as a pirate if he was captured. Some privateers, like Sir Francis Drake, became national heroes. Others, like Captain William Kidd, were hanged as pirates.

Privateering was made illegal in 1856 by international treaty.

Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.


From the Archives: Building Baghdad

by pamela on March 10, 2015

I currently have my head down trying to finish a big project that I’m excited about. Instead of driving myself crazy trying to write blog posts at the same time or, worse, “going dark” I’ll be running some of my favorite posts from the past for the next little while. Enjoy. And I’ll see you soon.

Baghdad, the round city

Today we think of Baghdad in terms of tyranny, terrorism and mistakes. A sinkhole for American troops. A sandbox for suicide bombers.

In the eighth century, Baghdad was the largest city in the world–and the most exciting. Like Paris in the 1890s, Baghdad was a cultural magnet that drew scientists, poets, scholars and artists from all over the civilized world. (Just for the record, that didn’t include Europe, which was having a bit of trouble on the civilization front in the centuries after the fall of Rome.)

Baghdad was a brand new city, built to replace Damascus as the capital of an Islamic empire that was no longer the sole property of the Arab tribes. The Abbasid caliph al-Mansur had his architects draw the outer walls of his new capital in a perfect circle, using the geometric precepts of Euclid.

Completed in 765, the Round City grew quickly. Within fifty years, it had a population of more than a million people: Muslim and Christian Arabs, non-Arab Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sabians and an occasional Hindu scholar visiting from India. It had separate districts for different trades, including a street devoted to booksellers and papermakers.

Most important of all, Baghdad had libraries. Encouraged by an official policy of intellectual curiosity, scholars in Baghdad collected works of literature, philosophy and science from all corners of the empire. (Baghdad reportedly negotiated for a copy of Ptolemy’s Megale Syntax as part of a peace treaty with Byzantium.) Ambitious nobles followed the caliphs’ example and created their own libraries, many of which were open to scholars. Working in a culture that encouraged learning, Abbasid scholars in the eighth through the tenth centuries not only transcribed and translated the classical scholarship of Greece, Persia and India, they transformed it, pushing the boundaries of knowledge forward in mathematics, geography, astronomy and medicine.


I currently have my head down trying to finish a big project that I’m excited about. Instead of driving myself crazy trying to write blog posts at the same time or, worse, “going dark” I’ll be running some of my favorite posts from the past for the next little while. Enjoy. And I’ll see you soon.

I’ve been thinking about Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal today, and re-reading bits of Peter Russell’s excellent biography, Prince Henry “the Navigator”: A Life

You remember Prince Henry. He’s the first in a series of names that you learned in grade school: Prince Henry the Navigator, Columbus, Dias, Magellan–maybe Henry Hudson if your teacher was into the Great Explorers and the Age of Discovery.

If you got hooked, you trotted down to the school library and checked out a biography–or three. (Not that I admit to having done anything of the sort.) They introduced you to the princely scholar who founded a school on the coast of Portugal where he taught new arts of navigation to his sailors. The visionary who sent men out explore the cost of Africa with the goal of reaching India. The gifted mathematician whose theories made oceanic navigation possible. The dynamic symbol of Portugal’s imperial destiny. In short, a heroic figure a nerd could love.

Not surprisingly, the story told in a biography suitable for a ten-year-old is little more than a series of half-truths. Even the nickname “the Navigator” is a misnomer, invented by nineteenth century historians eager to establish the Portuguese grandson of John of Gaunt as the forefather of British maritime success. In fact, the prince’s only personal experience of seafaring was trips along the Portuguese post and the occasional short hop to Morocco.

Henry was an ambitious prince, a would-be Crusader, a celibate Christian knight, a talented administrator, and a shrewd businessman. For more than forty years he funded expeditions of exploration along the west coast of Africa, pushing Portuguese seamen to sail further than they ever had before. By providing the financial support and intellectual stimulus for Portugal’s voyages of discovery, Prince Henry the Navigator transformed Portugal from a small, impoverished nation into Europe’s first maritime empire. Now that I think about it, a hero that a grown-up nerd can still admire.

Go, Henry.


I currently have my head down trying to finish a big project that I’m excited about. Instead of driving myself crazy trying to write blog posts at the same time or, worse, “going dark” I’ll be running some of my favorite posts from the past for the next little while. Enjoy. And I’ll see you soon.


Commemorative stamp in honor of al-Khwarizmi issued by the Soviet Union in 1983

Quick: multiply DVII by XVIII. Before you could work the problem you translated it into Arabic numbers didn’t you?

The person you can thank, or blame, for your ability to multiply and divide is the mathematician and astronomer Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (ca. 783-847), whose name lives on in a mangled form as “algorithm. (Honest. Take a moment to sound it out.)

We know very little about al-Khwarizmi’s life. His name suggests he was born in the region of Khwarazm in what is now Uzbekistan. There are suggestions that he was a Zoroastrian, who may have converted to Islam.

We know a lot about al-Khwarizmi’s work as a scholar in al-Mansur’s court in Baghdad. He introduced what were then called “Hindu numerals” to the Muslim world. He produced an important astronomical chart (zij) that made it possible to calculate the positions of the sun, the moon and the major planets and to tell time based on stellar and solar observations.

Al-Khwarizmi’s most important contribution to science was a ground-breaking mathematical treatise: al-Kitab al-Mukhtasar fi Hisab al-Jebr wal-Muqabala. The title translates to The Compendium on Calculation by Restoration and Balancing, but the book is most often referred to as al-jebr, or algebra. His treatise was a combination of mathematical theory and practical examples related to inheritances, property division, land measurements, and canal digging. He was the inventor both of quadratic equations and the dreaded word problem. (Some of his word problems became classics, which meant they were still giving schoolboys grief several centuries later.)

So, the next time you need to calculate “how long it will take for two cars to meet in Dubuque if one car leaves Minneapolis going 60 miles an hour and the other leaves Peoria traveling 75 miles an hour?” remember to thank al-Khwarizmi.


I currently have my head down trying to finish a big project that I’m excited about. Instead of driving myself crazy trying to write blog posts at the same time or, worse, “going dark” I’ll be running some of my favorite posts from the past for the next little while. Enjoy. And I’ll see you soon.

Karl Bodmer

Aquatint by Karl Bodmer. Fort Pierre on the Missouri and the adjacent prairies c. 1833

Why is Omaha on my travel list? Two words, okay three: The Bodmer Collection.

In 1832, German naturalist Prince Maximilian zu Weid-Neuweid led one of the earliest expeditions to the American West.* As anyone who has snapped a picture of the Grand Canyon or the Grand Bazaar knows, expeditions need to be recorded. Instead of a Canon Powershot, Prince Maximilian brought along Karl Bodmer, a young Swiss artist with a talent for watercolor.

Prince Maximilian and Bodmer traveled the rivers of the American West for two years, going from Saint Louis to North Dakota and back. They saw an Indian raid, a wild prairie fire, and herds of buffalo and elk at close range. They suffered through a harsh winter in North Dakota, trapped by snow and bitter cold. At one point their boat caught fire.

Bodmer painted through it all, even when it was so cold that his paints froze solid. He captured images of the landscape, the animals, and. most notably, the Native American peoples they met. Bodmer’s depictions of the early American West have been described as the visual equivalent of Lewis and Clark’s journals. Although originally intended as “notes” to Prince Maximilian’s account of their journey, Bodmer’s paintings and sketches are now seen as the most important work of the expedition.

Today the Bodmer Collection is housed at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. Put it on your list.


*Prince Maximilian wasn’t just a rich man with a yen for travel. He had a bee in his bonnet. He thought the native peoples of the Missouri and Mississippi river basins would help him prove that humankind developed from a single set of parents, presumably Adam and Eve.

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In Manchuria

by pamela on February 25, 2015


Michael Meyer’s In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland And The Transformation of Rural China is a beautifully written blend of memoir, travel account, history and social commentary.

In 2011, Meyer moved to his Chinese wife’s hometown–a Manchurian village with what proved to be the inappropriate name of Wasteland. He had lived in Beijing for several years and written about change in urban China (The Last Days of Old Beijing). Now he was interested in the question of rural China, which was slowly disappearing as a result of forces familiar to anyone who knows the blighted farm towns of the American Midwest.

In his account of his months in Wasteland, Meyer walks the fine and often funny line between being both insider and outsider, telling a story that is at once intensely personal and broadly political. He explores the unexpected agricultural richness of Wasteland, learning the fine points of rice cultivation in the process. He searches for the surprisingly illusory traces of Manchuria’s history as China’s frontier. (Only remnants remained of the Manchu dynasty’s Willow Palisade, Japanese and Russian colonial cities, and a POW camp where survivors from the Bataan Death March were held.) And to his surprise, having expected to find the remains of China’s past in Manchuria, he instead finds China’s future in the form of Eastern Fortune– a privately owned rice company that is in the process of transforming Wasteland from a commune to a company town.

In Manchuria is an engaging account of rural China poised on the brink of change.

This review previous appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers


The End of French Algeria

by pamela on February 21, 2015

Algerian Revolution

Barricades in Algiers, 1960
Photograph courtesy of Christophe Marcheux under Creative Commons license

The Algerian Revolution, which lasted from 1954 to 1962, was one of the bloodiest of the anti-colonial wars that broke out in Asia and Africa after the end of World War II. *

Algerian resistance against colonial rule in Algeria was nothing new. Abd al-Qadir fought against French expansion in North Africa for fifteen years in the mid-nineteenth century. And small-scale uprisings were a regular occurrence throughout the French colonial period.

But Algerian resistance took on a new face after World War II. The war had weakened France and reduced its authority in the empire. On May 8, 1945, when French Algerians celebrated Germany’s surrender, Algerian nationalists staged a protest against a return to French rule that resulted in a small Algerian uprising and brutal French retaliation.

In years immediately after the war, the French government attempted to negotiate with the elite-based nationalist movement by offering a small degree of political reform–a classic case of too little, too late. Algerians rejected French offers as a ruse to maintain minority French rule over a Muslim majority ten times its size. For those of us familiar with the Indian nationalist movement, this all sounds very familiar. What came next was very different from the Indian experience.

A growing number of nationalists came to believe armed insurrection was the only way to get the French out. On November 1, 1954, only a few months after the crushing defeat of French troops by Vietnamese nationalists at Dien Bien Phu,** the National Liberation Front (FLN) called for independence from France. The organization requested diplomatic recognition for the establishment of an Algerian state from the United Nations. At the same time, the FLN began a guerilla war against French control.

France was not willing to let Algeria go easily. The interior minister, François Mitterand , summed up the popular French position, “Algeria is France”. He then declared “the only possible negotiation is war.” Not surprisingly, war is what he got.

The trigger point for escalating violence on both sides occurred in August, 1955, when the FLN, which had previously targeted public buildings, military and police posts, and communications installations, attacked a small European mining settlement near the city of Phillipeville. The nationalist forces slaughtered seventy-one European civilians, including a five-day old baby. The attacks were up close and personal: slitting a civilian’s throat is not generally recognized as an act of warfare. The French army went on a killing rampage in response, shooting down as many as 12,000 Algerians–more than the entire membership of the FLN.

Like most wars of independence, the Algerian Revolution was a David and Goliath contest, with the caveat that both sides were ruthless. With limited resources, the FLN fell back on the tactics of guerilla warfare: planting bombs in public places, ambushing government forces, killing and then blending back into the civilian population. Determined to protect the large community of European settlers in Algeria, the French government increased its military presence to 500,000 troops. French tactics in the Algerian War were shaped by their recent defeat in Vietnam, where many of the officers had served. These tactics included the use of napalm, the large-scale destruction of villages, and the relocation of almost two million Algerian civilians into so-called “pacification hamlets” in an attempt to cut the FLN off from its civilian base. *** The worst of the fighting occurred in Algiers itself, a bloody dance of FLN terrorist attacks and equally violent French counter-terrorism known as the Battle of Algiers.

By 1958, the French seemed to be winning the war in Algeria, but were losing the war at home. With the barbarism of the German occupation fresh in their memories, the French public began to question the methods used in the Algerian war, and the government that waged it. (Please note, this is not the same as questioning French rule in Algeria.) The government began to move toward compromise; the army and the pieds noirs did not.**** That April, former president Charles De Gaulle seized in power in a bloodless coup fueled by the Algerian paradox and backed in large part by the French settlers and pro-colonial elements of the army . The joke was on them. In 1959, de Gaulle pulled a political switcheroo and declared Algeria had the right to determine its own political future.

The Algerian War effectively came to an end on March 19, 1962, when the French government and representatives of the FLN signed the Évian Accords, which called for an immediate cease-fire and negotiations regarding the transfer of power to an Algerian government. A group of French Algerian extremists, with the tacit support of the army, launched a brief, brutal counter-terrorist campaign against both the FLN and the French government in Algeria in an attempt to stop the movement toward independence, but French control of Algeria was over. The French public approved the terms of the Accords in a referendum on April 8. On July 1, six million Algerians voted in favor of independence in a second referendum. Two days later, De Gaulle announced Algeria independence.

Following independence, some 900,000 pied noirs fled to France, which was totally unprepared for the flood of refugees. They left behind an economy shattered by 100 years of colonialism and eight years of war. Ironically, a few years later thousands of young Algerians began to leave their newly independent homeland in search of a better life–in France. French rule in Algeria was over; France’s relationship with Algerians was not.

* If you want a visceral depiction of the revolution, I recommend you skip my post and go straight to the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers by Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo. I have not seen it, because I am a wimp about filmed violence, but by all accounts, it is a powerful work of art that looks at the war from both sides.

**If you’re interested in learning more about the siege of Dien Bien Phu or the background for the US involvement in Vietnam, My Own True Love and a great many other history buff, recommend Bernard Fall’s Hell In A Very Small Place. It’s on my personal To Be Read list. (I’m less of a wimp about violence in the written word.)

***A civilian internment camp by any other name is still morally questionable.

****It is important to point out that European settlement had been a fact of Algerian life for almost 100 years under French rule. Many of the European settlers were second and third generation pied noirs. They might have thought of themselves as French but their feet were deeply rooted in Algerian soil. The parallels with white South Africans are instructive.