On March 23, 2016, the Department of Modern Languages hosted the first annual Pettis Lecture in French and Francophone Studies. This lecture was made possible through the generous support of the Dorothy Bradford Pettis Fund and the Department of Modern Languages. Dr. Amy L. Hubbell, Lecturer in French at the University of Queensland, Australia, presented “Battling Memory: Three Women’s Testimonials of the Battle of Algiers.” Dr. Hubbell, a former Kansas State University associate professor of French, specializes in French and Francophone identity, exile, and trauma writing. She is the author of Remembering French Algeria: Pieds-Noirs, Identity and Exile (University of Nebraska Press, 2015) and a textbook, A la recherche d’un emploi: Business French in a Communicative Context (Focus, 2011).
In her talk, Dr. Hubbell presented three narratives of the infamous bombing of the Milk Bar in Algiers on September 30, 1956 which killed three people, wounded fifty and left twelve maimed—all were civilians. This terrorist act, famously depicted in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film The Battle of Algiers, is often viewed as a heroic measure instrumental in the eventual independence of Algeria. The 2008 documentary film Les Porteuses de feu (Fire Carriers), directed by Faouzia Fékiri, engages Algerian women including Zohra Drif (the Milk Bar bomber) who testify to their willingness to participate in terrorist activities in their fight for independence from France (1954-1962). But two of the Milk Bar bombing victims have been grappling with its effects for most of their lives, and these depictions cause aftershocks that do not allow the trauma to dissipate. Nicole Guiraud and Danielle Michel-Chich were both children in the Milk Bar on the day of the attack. Guiraud, age ten, lost her left arm and saw her father gravely wounded; Michel-Chich was five when her leg was amputated and her grandmother was killed. This talk demonstrated how those directly affected by trauma fight for the right version of their story to be remembered, even sixty years onward, as they seek healing for the wounds of the past.