Walid Benkhaled and Natalya Vince: Generation Independence: A People’s History
How do you make space in history for a period which is historically important, but not politically or institutionally valued (i.e. valued by those in power)? How do you begin to gather oral testimony and build a living archive when the stories only emerge in fragments? How can stories about the past be brought to new publics, educated in different languages of instruction, using creative forms? What new opportunities to address these questions can emerge from the exponential growth in access to the internet and the use of social media in the region in the past 10 years?
“Generation Independence: A People’s History” is a work-in-progress project which explores creative ways to make Algerian post-independence histories visible and audible to wider audiences, in a context where Algerian public history continues to be dominated by retellings of the colonial and anti-colonial nationalist past and where the international lens remains focused on the civil violence of the 1990s. The project aims to bring together younger and older generations in the creation and consumption of multilingual, multimedia, open-access sources about the 1960s and 1970s. At its heart is a series of eighteen 20-minute documentary portraits in which Algerian women and men talk about the 1960s and 1970s, with their words interwoven with photographs and documents from their personal archives. Subtitled in Arabic, French and English, and available online as an openaccess source, the series seeks to prompt an intergenerational conversation about a period in Algerian history which has been marginalised. More broadly, the project seeks to be part of ongoing discussions about how engaging user communities at the start, rather than the end, of the research process can put their questions and concerns at the centre of the research design and increase the potential for the research to have a wider social impact, beyond the community of researchers.
Walid Benkhaled comes to the Transregional Academy from three different perspectives. Firstly, as a documentary maker. Secondly, as a researcher of the history, politics and aesthetics of Algerian cultural production, notably in the post-independence period. Thirdly, as a Production Manager in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth, UK, where he manages the production of staff and student theatre performances as well as lectures in film studies. He is the holder of a BSc in Audiovisual Arts and Technology from the Institut International de l’Image et du Son (3IS) in France, with a specialisation in film editing (2007). This was followed in 2011 with an MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Portsmouth. In 2016-17, Benkhaled spent a year living in the ‘interior’ town of Bordj-Bou-Arreridj in the east of Algeria, working with state-run cultural structures, independent cultural associations and young artists, writers and actors exploring the everyday interactions between culture and politics through a filmed anthropology. The resulting documentary Performing Algerianness/ ثقافة شوية is currently in post-production. Short extracts of some of the material filmed can be found on Benkhaled’s Youtube channel. His interest in going beyond some of the tenacious stereotypes about Algeria – and notably the idea that the country is locked into an eternal, and often violent, “culture war” – as well as promoting intergenerational transmission led him to another documentary project, “Generation Independence”.
In his academic work, Benkhaled is particularly interested in the mechanisms of funding Algerian cultural production, specifically cinema, and how explicit and implicit conditions attached to funding from the Global North can determine aesthetic, thematic and linguistic “choices” made by filmmakers in the Global South,
Natalya Vince is Reader in North African and French Studies at the University of Portsmouth, UK. In 2008, she obtained her PhD from the University of London, for a thesis on the postwar lives, official commemoration and individual and collective memories of Algerian women who fought in the anti-colonial struggle. This was published with Manchester University Press in 2015 as Our Fighting Sisters: Nation, Memory and Gender in Algeria, 1954-2012. She is currently the holder of a three-year European Commission H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Global Fellowship, for a project on students, social change and the construction of the post-independence Algerian state. This has involved extended periods of living and researching in Algeria, notably using oral history to build up a body of interviews with former students who went to university in the 1960s and 1970s, which in due course will be archived. This prompted a reflection on not only how to make this archival material accessible to younger generations of Algerians, but also how the questions and preoccupations of this younger generation might be brought into the research agenda at the design stage. The result is a documentary-series project entitled “Generation Independence”, whose work-in-progress Vince will present with Walid Benkhaled at the Transregional Academy.
In addition to her monograph, Vince is the author of various journal articles and book chapters engaging with women’s and gender history in Algeria, history and memory in Algeria and France and the relationship between culture and politics. She is currently co-editing with Tony Chafer (University of Portsmouth) the multidisciplinary Palgrave Handbook of ‘Francophone’ Africa. In 2018, she co-organised, with Malika Rahal (IHTP-CNRS) and the Centre d’Etudes Maghrébines en Algérie (CEMA), the annual conference of the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS) on the theme of ‘Students, Universities and Knowledge Production in the Maghrib’.