Algeria and the Rise of Global History
Algeria, the largest country in both Africa and the Arab world, is probably best-known to English speakers as the birthplace of Albert Camus, novelist, philosopher, goalkeeper and, alongside Raymond Aron and Léon Blum, one of the trio of French progressives celebrated by the late Tony Judt for seeing through the false promises of the Soviet Union. Our picture of Algeria is slowly expanding though, thanks in part to the work of scholars such as Martin Evans - whose article on the embattled Jews of French Algeria is in the July issue of History Today - and the circle of young academics he has assembled at the University of Portsmouth. This renewed interest is to be welcomed, for Algeria is the source of two of the most dynamic areas of modern historical inquiry: the study of Late Antiquity and the rise of global history.
St Augustine, arguably the single most important figure in Christian thought, was born in 354 in the north-east of what became Algeria, in Hippo Regius, now the modern industrial city of Annaba. After a famously dissolute youth (‘Lord, make me pure, but not yet’), he benefited from the early form of globalisation that was the Roman Empire. Pioneering an intellectual revolution made possible by the swift transmission of ideas, he defined the concepts of original sin and just war. Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions, was the first of its kind and it is Peter Brown’s biography of Augustine, first published in 1967, that established the reputation of the foremost scholar of what has come to be known as Late Antiquity, the crucial period between the fall of Rome and the rise of medieval Europe. Brown’s forthcoming book, The Eye of the Needle, vast in scope and ambition, will trace the challenges posed to Christian thinkers such as Jerome and Ambrose, as well as Augustine, by the vast wealth the Church accrued as Rome’s western empire slipped away.