In Incidental Archaeologists, Bonnie Effros examines the archaeological contributions of nineteenth-century French military officers, who, raised on classical accounts of warfare and often trained as cartographers, developed an interest in the Roman remains they encountered when commissioned in the colony of Algeria. By linking the study of the Roman past to French triumphant narratives of the conquest and occupation of the Maghreb, Effros demonstrates how Roman archaeology in the forty years following the conquest of the Ottoman Regencies of Algiers and Constantine in the 1830s helped lay the groundwork for the creation of a new identity for French military and civilian settlers.
Effros uses France’s violent colonial war, its efforts to document the ancient Roman past, and its brutal treatment of the region’s Arab and Berber inhabitants to underline the close entanglement of knowledge production with European imperialism. Significantly, Incidental Archaeologists shows how the French experience in Algeria contributed to the professionalization of archaeology in metropolitan France.
Effros demonstrates how the archaeological expeditions undertaken by the French in Algeria and the documentation they collected of ancient Roman military accomplishments reflected French confidence that they would learn from Rome’s technological accomplishments and succeed, where the Romans had failed, in mastering the region.
"In this fascinating new book, Bonnie Effros continues to explore the politics of archaeology in nineteenth-century France by focusing on North Africa and the activity of French officers between 1830 and 1870. Uncovering many archival documents, she challenges the too often triumphal narrative of French archaeology in North Africa and reminds us of the violence that accompanied archaeological exploration."
Éric Rebillard, Cornell University, and author of Christians and their Many Identities in Late Antiquity
"Incidental Archaeologists shows how nineteenth-century French colonizers explored and exploited some remnants of North African antiquity while erasing other layers of history, including long-established local Muslim communities and their histories. Effros’s deep and rich contextualization of these highly consequential military and cultural ‘campaigns’ is history of archaeology at its finest."
Suzanne Marchand, Professor of History, Louisiana State University
"It’s rare for an author to handle classical evidence and its modern interpreters with equal skill, but Bonnie Effros does in Incidental Archaeologists. It’s a compelling, and at times disturbing, portrait of colonial archaeologists who combined a respect for the Maghreb’s ancient past with the violent suppression and expropriation of its nineteenth-century present—and whose pioneering work on sites like Lambaesis, embedded in colonial realities, still shape our understanding of North African antiquity."
Michael Kulikowski, Professor of History and Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Pennsylvania State University