In memory of the anthropologist Germaine Tillion

Yesterday, Germaine Tillion has died at the age of the age of one-hundred. Few students of anthropology probably can tell you who Germaine is despite the fact that she has been one of the anthropologists who have contributed not only to the understanding of the Mediterranean region, particularly North Africa, but also to the freedom of Europe from the nightmare of fascism and Nazism. She has been a ‘partigiani’ and also a prisoner at Ravensbrueck; a personal experience which would mark her life and her future commitment against torture and oppression.

Germanie Tillion’s fieldwork took place in the Aures region of Algeria from 1934 to 1940. The material she collected has been at the centre of her two most famous works The Republic of Cousins: Women’s Oppression in Mediterranean Society and Il etait une fois l’ethnographie.

After the end of the Second World War, Germaine Tillion, despite wishing to study the ideology and reasons behind the Nazi crimes and the use of the camps, accepted professor Louis Massignon’s pressing suggestions and decided to go back to Algeria in 1954. She observed, and was the first to do so among ethnographers, that one of the main issues which Algeria was facing, and that would have affected its future, was the migration from the countryside to the cities, which caused a severe impoverishment of the migrants. Continue reading