Imperialism and Environmental History in the Middle East


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




No other region on the planet, except, perhaps, the polar zones, has been more strongly defined by its environment than the Middle East. This project, based on archival and documentary research, elaborates the critical importance of colonial scientists, administrators, foresters, agricultural experts, settlers, and others in the construction of the standard environmental histories of the Arab Middle East from Egypt to Syria. It elucidates the fundamental errors in these narratives, shows how they changed over time, and examines the various uses to which they were put. In most cases, these conventional environmental narratives were constructed and used by British and French colonial powers to facilitate the domination of many states in the Middle East economically and politically, to justify the appropriation and extraction of resources (especially land), and to control local populations. This project offers a new understanding of the Middle East environment with direct contemporary policy applications.