Cook’s Practical Guide to Algeria and Tunisia (1908) provided comprehensive information for European tourists tinged with imperialist ideology. Cook markets to a wide range of potential customers, noting Algeria and Tunisia’s worth as “health-resort[s],” locations to “study past civilizations,” or simply, “picturesque and beautiful” places to travel. The sections of the guidebook enhance these claims, promoting Cook and Sons while implicitly supporting European expansion into Northern Africa.
Cook dedicates the majority of the guidebook to Algeria, possibly owing to the fact that at the time of publication, Algeria was a French colony, while Tunisia was a protectorate. The guidebook opens with geographical descriptions, notes on agriculture and wildlife, and an extensive passage on benefits of the Algerian climate. In recognizing biases within Cook’s Guide, one must look no further than the section on Algerian inhabitants. Coarse descriptions frame the population as an “other”-to be observed or exploited, but not engaged with on equal footing. Similarly, the history of Algiers is summed up in merely 4 pages, which praise the “Christian character” of colonial Algeria in contrast to the “Mohammedan infidelity” predating it.
In Part 2, Cook turns to logistics. Numerous modes of transportation cater to tourists of any class. Timing schedules indicate the increasing standardization of tourist travel. A “General Information” section promotes conventional aspects of European life accessible in Algeria. Cook describes a post office, banks, government offices, and an “English” hospital. Europeans were intended to believe their accustomed comforts could be found in Algiers. Cook spends the remaining pages on Algeria delineating routes, excursions of different lengths, and merits of specific tourist locations.
One can discern continued emphasis by Cook on ancient Roman (therefore Christian) ruins, religious sites, and places to improve health, such as baths. The city of Tlemçen provides an example. It is described as “a Roman camp...city of light and genius...one of the most civilized towns of the world about 1553.” Cook claims Tlemçen was lost for a time to Arab control, before being restored as “an integral part of French Algeria...doing a large trade with Europe.” In contrast, the majority of Arab villages and cafés are demoted to scenic places to visit; there is no suggestion that tourists might engage with residents. For every destination, railway stations and distances to other sites, including Tunisia are listed.
The portion of the Guide on Tunisia is similar to that for Algeria, including climate, local culture, potential travel plans, and practical or expected comforts. Cook particularly emphasizes the historical connection of the region to Ancient Rome through the ancient Christian city of Carthage. It is interesting to note a section on “English Enterprise” which is considerably more limited than that in Algeria. However, “Excursions from Tunis” occupy only 44 pages, compared to the nearly 200 routes to and through Algeria. The book concludes with a collection of advertisements: Cook’s Guide benefitted tourists, but the economic boon their trips offered to the company should not be discounted.
Contributors: George Curtis (GC), Nadia Mansoor (NM), Emma Novak (EN)