Prof. Brower’s latest book garners book award from Middle East Studies Association (MESA)
Assistant Professor Benjamin C. Brower won the Albert Hourani Book Award from MESA at their annual Awards Ceremony held on Nov. 19 in San Diego, Calif.
Posted: November 26, 2010
Prof. Benjamin Claude Brower
A Desert Named Peace, The Violence of France's Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1902, (Columbia University Press, July 2009) is on the mid-nineteenth century French colonial period. It examines the French colonial leaders in Algeria who started pushing southward into the Sahara setting off a 50-year period of violence. Lying in the shadow of the colonization of northern Algeria, which claimed the lives of over a million people, French empire in the Sahara sought power through physical force as it had elsewhere.
“This meditation on the persistence of violence in Algeria has both poetic depth and historical sweep; it is also a gripping read that is hard to put down…. This contribution not only provides a sharp analysis of the histories and discourses that underpin violence in contemporary Algeria, but also provides an example of how a dialectic of violence is kept alive more generally," said prize committee chair, Carl W. Ernst, the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, during the Awards Ceremony.
“The historical research is of very high quality and breadth, and the book’s unusual organizational presentation of four ‘views’ of the violence of colonial invasion and occupation is balanced by the examination of the violence of retaliation and the institutional violence of slavery,” he continued. The book was unanimously recommended by the committee for the Albert Hourani Book Award.
Brower examines colonial violence through multiple stories and across several fields of research in his book. "Violence in the Algerian Sahara followed a more complicated logic than the old argument that it was simply a way to get empire on the cheap," Brower explained.
The book shows that colonial violence was not always about the force of France’s military campaigns or the uprisings of Algerians fighting oppression (the “Wretched” as Franz Fanon named them), even as it was strongly linked to this basic struggle.
Brower stresses the unexpected and overlooked examples of violence in the colonial period. These include the violence of indigenous slavery, the violence imbedded in Algerian Sufism’s paths to authority, and the dangerous implications of French Romantics’ fascination with a desert sublime.
The Albert Hourani Book Award is given by the MESA for outstanding non-fiction work in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. It is named for Albert Hourani (1915-1933), who was born in Manchester, England in 1915 to immigrant parents formerly of what is now South Lebanon.
He attended Magdalen College, Oxford graduating in 1936. He taught in the Middle East for several years at the American University of Beirut. During the Second World War, he joined the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Hourani also served as an analyst at the Office of the British Minister of State resident in Cairo, and was the principal researcher and writer at the Arab Office.
After 1946, he devoted himself to academics eventually teaching at his alma mater before becoming the first university lecturer in the modern history of the Near East at St. Antony’s College. He eventually became the director of their Middle East Center. He published Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1789-1939 in 1942, which became a classic.
He published numerous books and articles including book reviews and was the editor of seven books. According to the Middle East Studies Association’s website, “His genius was an integral part of the personal and professional ethic that informed all his work and relationships. More than any other single individual, he established modern Middle East studies on a solid academic basis.”
MESA was founded in 1966 with 50 original members, but has grown to more than 3,000 members today. The association is a non-profit learned society and is affiliated with the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Council of Area Studies Associations, and a member of the National Humanities Alliance.
It publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and a quarterly newsletter.
This is Brower's second book award for A Desert Named Peace. He received the The Society for French Historical Studies’s David H. Pinkney Prize at their 56th annual convention in April 2010.