Agricultural Fire or Arson?

Rural Denizens, Forest Administration, and the Colonial Situation in Algeria (1850–1900)

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Antonin Plarier Lyon 3 University and Rhône Alpes Historical Research Laboratory, France

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This article focuses on fire management practices in Algeria during the colonial period. Focusing on environmental usages of fires in Algerian rural society, this article shows that these practices were submitted to varied and opposite interpretations resulting in significant and durable conflicts. These conflicts exploded under the French colonial forestry administration, which forcefully imposed new legislation to criminalize existing agricultural practices, including fires. Despite this ban, these practices continued. The administration interpreted this persistence as rebellion and responded with severe sanctions. This only aggravated the situation, resulting in a real war of attrition. On the one hand, this situation does not diverge from the rural violence typical of the nineteenth century. On the other, the responses of the administration in colonial Algeria represent specific digressions compared to the policies carried out in metropolitan areas.

Contributor Notes

Antonin Plarier is an Associate Professor at Lyon 3 University and member of the LARHRA (Rhône Alpes Historical Research Laboratory). He received his PhD in contemporary history at Université Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). His thesis focused on rural banditry in Algeria during the colonial period (1871–1920s), centered on links between banditry and different types of dispossessions (land dispossessions and attacks on customary rights). After having taught at Lycée Jean Lurçat in Martigues (France), he is now teaching at Lyon 3 University. Email:

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