Anndal Narayanan '10
Majors: French and History
Graduate Student (European History) and Teaching Assistant
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC
“Society doesn’t need us anymore. It will move on, perhaps, but we believe that we represent something important in society.”
Hubert Bornens, president for the Haute-Savoie Departmental Veterans’ Union, was speaking about veterans of the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62) in an interview with Anndal Narayanan ’10. The two were at the headquarters of the National Union of Combatants in Paris, where Narayanan was gathering oral histories about the war for his doctoral dissertation in modern European history.
Rather than focusing on combat, Narayanan wants to chronicle tales of veterans coming home from a conflict that, until 1999, was not officially recognized by the French government and scarcely was taught in schools. Brutal tactics employed by the French army, including torture and the massacre of civilians, remain largely unacknowledged. For the most part, surviving veterans, now in their 70s, have never publicly shared their stories.
“No one has studied the postwar experiences of French veterans of the Algerian War of Independence. For decades, this topic has been very difficult to discuss in society and even within families,” says Narayanan, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He was awarded a scholarship in March 2013 from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and moved to Paris to spend about 10 months interviewing veterans before he returned to North Carolina to resume his studies.
Narayanan, who studied French and history at Goucher, seeks to separate individual experiences from the collective memory of the war. He says it is common to hear, “I was a victim,” or “My youth was ruined.” Digging deep and recording the objective history can be a challenge: “Sometimes, the unsaid is as significant as what is said.”
Narayanan spent months conducting research at the Library of Contemporary International Documentation, the Archives of the Prefecture of Police, and several veterans’ associations. Ultimately, he hopes to turn his thesis into a book published in English and French.
“Countless people have told me that this is a project only a foreigner could do in France because it is still such a sensitive subject,” he says. “I think many of the veterans are touched that an American researcher is interested in their story.”