Algiers’ banking institutions: the example of the BNP Paribas archives

            Banking centres in cities, and especially colonial cities, have only very recently and tentatively been the subject of in-depth historical research[1]. In terms of the importance of both banks and the companies in which they are shareholders in the urban space, the field of historiographic possibilities is vast. Moreover, clearly re-situating and measuring urban investment in banks and their relationships with other figures (elected officials, owners and other, diverse notables) in colonial cities has been made possible by a recent crop of monographs on a range of institutions and figures[2].

The redevelopment of the Marine neighborhood by the Régie Foncière de la Ville d’Alger

            Discussion with and a first visit to the archives of BNP Paribas[3] (BNPP) underline the richness of the archives of banks in terms of the history of cities in a colonial situation[4]. A key city in the French colonial empire, Algiers has been the object of investment of all kinds, especially in terms of land and property[5]. La Compagnie Nouvelle Foncière et Financière is one of the companies created by the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (in collaboration with Crédit Lyonnais). Founded in 1929,  the company founded the Régie Foncière de la Ville d’Alger (RFVA) government real estate office with Crédit Foncier d’Algérie et de Tunisie, which went on to apply for and win the tender for the redevelopment of the Marine (Bab Dzira) neighbourhood in late March 1931[6]. This meant razing almost all of the neighbourhood between the Casbah and the sea, which during the inter-war period, was peopled mainly by ‘European’ workers and sailors. There was also a significant number of ‘indigenous’ people in the area. Thus, this district is a real ‘world of contact’ between populations hierarchised and estranged by various colonial assignments.

            Our knowledge of the population and daily life for the whole colonial period at the scale of the different neighbourhoods, streets, plots and even buildings, suffers from a lack of official municipal documents produced by commune institutions, preserved in municipal archives and for the moment unidentified. The few stacks consulted at the BNP archives have, amongst other, gone some way to rectifying that overall lack. New and unseen documents are numerous: correspondence that allows for a better understanding of the twists and turns of the Marine redevelopment project; internal RFVA brochures; lists of people who were re-housed by the RFVA, and maps relating to the Marine neighbourhood (maps 1 and 2).

Map 1. « Algiers. Marine neighborhood. Plot plan », s.d. [post-1938[7]] (BNP, 21-CABET-365).

Map 2. Detail of Map 1, centred on Place Soult-Berg

Historical cartography and reconstitution of the urban change of a neighbourhood

            A map such as this, laying out the state of the expropriations, compensation and demolitions, is rich with a huge quantity of information that allows us to capture the urban evolution (construction and population), as well as reconstitute the Marine neighbourhood[8]. Using a GIS combined with a database of information relating to expropriations carried out during the 1930s (provided by the official municipal bulletin of the city of Algiers), deeds[9] and the domiciliation of inhabitants of Algiers (marital status, military identity number, maritime registration, press) allow us to put the reasoning and development of the settlement of the neighbourhood, and the urban and colonial dynamics at work, into historical context.

[1]    BONIN Hubert, Banking in China, 1890s – 1940s: business in the French concessions, London, Routledge, 2020, 340p.; BONIN Hubert, French Banking and entrepreneurialism in China and Hong Kong: from the 1850’s to 1980s, London, Routledge. These two books are published in the Banking, Money and International Finance collection.

[2]    BONIN Hubert, Un Outre-Mer bancaire méditerranéen : histoire du Crédit foncier d’Algérie et de Tunisie, Paris, Publications de la Société française d’histoire d’outre-mer, 2004, 369p.; BONIN Hubert, HODEIR Catherine, KLEIN Jean-François (dir.), L’esprit économique impérial (1830 – 1970). Groupes de pression & réseaux du patronat colonial en France & dans l’empire, Paris, Paris, Publications de la Société française d’histoire des outre-mers, 2008, 844p.;  EL DACCACHE Georges, La Banque de Syrie et du Liban, levier de développement ou instrument de l’impérialisme français ? (1919 – 1945), historical doctoral thesis under the guidance of Dominique Barjot, Sorbonne University, 2019; GONJO Yasuo, Banque coloniale ou Banque d’affaires. La Banque de l’Indochine sous la IIIe République, Paris, Institut de la gestion publique et du développement économique / Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, « Histoire économique et financière, XIXe – XXe », 1993, 429p.

[3]    The French bank BNP (Banque Nationale de Paris) was created in 1966 as the result of a merger between the BNCI (Banque Nationale du Commerce et de l’Industrie, 1913 – 1966) with the CNPE (Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, 1848 – 1966). BNP and Paribas (the former Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, which became Paribas in 1982) merged in 2000 to form the BNP Paribas group. On the archives of this bank, see CHAZELLE Marie-Hélène, « Conserver les archives bancaires : le cas des sociétés de crédit, d’une banque d’affaires et de la Banque de France (1875 – 1935) », Livraisons d’histoire de l’architecture, 10, 2005, p. 19 – 31.

[4]    The archives of the groups whose merger lead to the forming of BNPP and its many subsidiaries, held in Dinan, can be viewed on appointment at 16, rue de Hanovre. Thanks go to Marie-Ève Rakuzin and Jean-Charles Bouguet  for their warm welcome and informative exchange in the consultation room.

[5]    LESPÈS René, Alger : étude de géographie et d’histoire urbaines, Paris, F. Alcan, 1930, 860p., herepp. 621 – 804.  The history of private investment in Algeria remains little-known, however. This is less the case for public investment (see, for example, GUIGNARD Dider, L’abus de pouvoir dans l’Algérie coloniale, Nanterre, Presses Universitaires de Paris-Nanterre, 2010, pp. 105 – 168 (son the period 1880 – 1914), MARSEILLE Jacques, « L’investissement public en Algérie après la Deuxième Guerre mondiale : vecteur de l’impérialisme ou avatar de la domination directe ? », Outre-Mers. Revue d’Histoire, pp. 260 – 261, 1983, pp. 179 – 197 and LEFEUVRE Daniel, Chère Algérie. La France et sa colonie (1930 – 1962), Paris, Flammarion, 2005, 512p.).

[6]    « Les grandes questions algéroises devant le Conseil municipal », L’Écho d’Alger, March 28th 1931, p.5; this meeting of the municipal council and its many accompanying documents, were the subject of a dedicated publication, a sign of its importance in the eyes of the municipal team (City of Algiers, L’offensive contre le taudis. Transformation des vieux quartiers d’Alger. Séance du Conseil municipal du 27 mars 1931. Rapport du maire, Alger, Ancienne Imprimerie V. Heintz, 1931, 208p.

[7]    The estimation of this date was made by cross-referencing elements in the key that mentioned a second wave of demolition, which was only effective after April 1938, when the municipal council decided on a new expropriation of 74 buildings (meeting of the municipal council of Algiers, April 29th 1938 (Annexe au BMOVA, June 5th – 20th 1938, pp. 181 – 18)).

[8]    For a contextualisation of long-term colonialism, see DUMASY François, « La grande spoliation d’Alger, 1830 – 1834 : codifications et énociations d’un bouleversement urbain »; JÉLIDI Charlotte (dir.), Villes maghrébines en situations coloniales, Paris / Tunis, Karthala / IRMC, 2014, pp. 39 – 58 and DUMASEY François, « À qui appartient Alger ? Normes d’appartenance et conflits d’appropriation à Alger au début de la présence française (1830 – 1833) », BARGAOUI Sami, CERUTTI Simona, GRANGAUD Isabelle (dir.), Appartenance locale et propriété au nord et sud de la Méditerranée, Aix-en-Provence, IREMAM, « Livres de l’IREMAM », 2015 [online].

[9]    GUIGNARD Didier, « Les archives vivantes des conservations foncières en Algérie », L’Année du Maghreb, 13, 2015, pp. 79 – 108.

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