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Tropiques Nostalgiques

Fatal Homesickness in French Algeria

Thomas Dodman

People once died of nostalgia. This article traces the remarkable trajectory of “la nostalgie africaine” from its original understanding as a clinical form of homesickness to the wistful, but wholly benign, feeling we are familiar with today. It does so by looking at French attempts at colonizing Algeria in the nineteenth century against the backdrop of changing medico-scientific theories of human acclimatization to warm climates. I argue that the latter provoked a positive reevaluation of homesickness and led to the development of a “nostalgic simulacra”: a replica French environment capable of sustaining the sepia-tainted illusion of an “Algérie française.”