'Electric News in Colonial Algeria' wins prestigious academic book award

British-Kuwait Friendship Society honours best scholarly work in Middle Eastern studies

The winner and runners up in the British-Kuwait Friendship Book prize. 
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A book examining the history of news in Algeria has won a prestigious academic award.

Electric News in Colonial Algeria was written by Arthur Asseraf, a lecturer in the history of France and the francophone world, who was awarded £10,000 for his seminal work derived from multiple language sources.

Here is a synopsis of the winning title and the two runners up, as adjudicated by the British-Kuwait Friendship Society.


Electric News in Colonial Algeria, by Arthur Asseraf

News was a whole ecosystem in which new technologies such as the printing press, telegraph, cinema and radio interacted with older media like songs, rumours, letters and manuscripts.

The French government watched anxiously over these developments, monitoring Algerians’ reactions to news through an extensive network of surveillance that often ended up spreading news rather than controlling its flow.

Asseraf's prize winner tracks what different people thought of as news, in a history which helps the reader to reconsider the relationship between time, media and historical change.

Runners up

Modern Things On Trial: Islam's Global and Material Reformation in the Age of Rida, 1865-1935, by Leor Halevi

Leor Halevi tells the story of the Islamic trials of technological and commercial innovations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He focuses on the communications of an entrepreneurial Syrian interpreter of the Sharia named Rashid Rida, who became a renowned reformer by responding to the demand for authoritative and authentic religious advice.

Through analysis of Rida’s international correspondence, Halevi argues that religious entanglements with new commodities and technologies were the driving force behind local and global projects to reform the Islamic legal tradition.

Shedding light on culture, commerce and consumption in Cairo and other colonial cities, Modern Things on Trial is a groundbreaking account of Islam's material transformation in a globalising era.

Entrepreneurial Syrian interpreter of the Sharia: Rashid Rida is the eponymous character of one of the garlanded books. Wikimedia Commons
Entrepreneurial Syrian interpreter of the Sharia: Rashid Rida is the eponymous character of one of the garlanded books. Wikimedia Commons

Friend of the Emir: Non-Muslim State Officials in Premodern Islamic Thought, by Luke B. Yarbrough

The Cambridge University Press tweeted its congratulations to Yarbrough for his work which reveals the discussions that took place between the caliphs and sultans who once ruled the Muslim world, and powerful Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian and other non-Muslim state officials.

The book follows the discourse from its beginnings in the Umayyad empire (661-750) through medieval Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Spain to its apex in the Mamluk period (1250-1517).

Titles which made the shortlist

  • A Monument to Medieval Syrian Book Culture: the Library of Ibn Άbd al-Hādī, by Konrad Hirschler
  • Age of Coexistence: the Ecumenical Frame and the Making of the Modern Arab World, by Ussama Makdisi