Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa

Overview

The landscapes of the Middle East have captured our imaginations throughout history. Images of endless golden dunes, camel caravans, isolated desert oases, and rivers lined with palm trees have often framed written and visual representations of the region. Embedded in these portrayals is the common belief that the environment, in most places, has been deforested and desertified by centuries of misuse. It is precisely such orientalist environmental imaginaries, increasingly undermined by contemporary ecological ...

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Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa

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Overview

The landscapes of the Middle East have captured our imaginations throughout history. Images of endless golden dunes, camel caravans, isolated desert oases, and rivers lined with palm trees have often framed written and visual representations of the region. Embedded in these portrayals is the common belief that the environment, in most places, has been deforested and desertified by centuries of misuse. It is precisely such orientalist environmental imaginaries, increasingly undermined by contemporary ecological data, that the eleven authors in this volume question.  This is the first volume to critically examine culturally constructed views of the environmental history of the Middle East and suggest that they have often benefitted elites at the expense of the ecologies and the peoples of the region. The contributors expose many of the questionable policies and practices born of these environmental imaginaries and related histories that have been utilized in the region since the colonial period. They further reveal how power, in the form of development programs, notions of nationalism, and hydrological maps, for instance, relates to environmental knowledge production. 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

 “This volume goes far beyond the current work in ‘colonial studies’ which tends to discuss ‘imperial visions and imaginings’ without grappling with the much more important issue: how these colonial visions of other peoples and other landscapes were instrumentalized on the ground in ways that drastically affected real peoples' daily lives and livelihoods- and the nature of postcolonial states and societies.”

—Julia Clancy-Smith, author of Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900 

“Perhaps in no other region of the globe has the environment been so central to its constitution and history than the Middle East. If nature has come to define the Arab-Islamic world, what are the historic forms and tropes through which this naturalization has been achieved and how has the environment become an object of knowledge? What are the imaginaries which shape our understandings of the region’s environment and why have they had such tenacity and durability? These questions are central to this excellent and path-breaking collection of provocative papers which address the complex cultural, political, scientific and biophysical ways in which for example oil, the nomad, the desert and so on are built into compelling and efficacious environmental narratives, policies and practices.  An exemplary political ecology of the MENA region.”

—Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley, author of Silent Violence and Liberation Ecologies, edited with Richard Peet

“This well-edited volume can be helpful both for scholars who would like to focus on particular geographic areas of the Middle East and North Africa, and for those interested in a wider view of this region’s history. By questioning dichotomies built by ‘orientalist’ and ‘postcolonial’ scholars alike, the articles gathered in this volume offer a fresh and unusual perception of the region and its history during the past two hundred years. Taking into account the fact that the environment is always a human one, these questions should be asked not only by environmental historians, but by sociologists, anthropologists, and--even more important--political activists in this region as well. It is essential for understanding what is going on there.”

H-Environment

“(T)he collection contributes as much to research on orientalism, imperialism, and nationalism as to environmental studies. Nevertheless, it is the focus on the natural world that keeps the work grounded and takes it into new terrains, literally and metaphorically….it should serve as a useful corrective to uncritical declensionist accounts of the region still found in world environmental histories.”

American Historical Review

“These outstanding essays create new pathways for applying Edward Said‘s foundational thesis of Orientalism to nature and environment in the Middle East and North Africa over three centuries to the present. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”

Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780821419748
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2011
  • Series: Ecology & History Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Diana K. Davis is an associate professor of history at the University of California at Davis. She is the author of Resurrecting the Granary of Rome: Environmental History and French Colonial Expansion in North Africa.

Edmund (“Terry”) Burke III is research professor of history at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He is the author of numerous books including Genealogies of Orientalism: History, Theory, Politics, edited with David Prochaska.  

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface Edmund Burke III ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction. Imperialism, Orientalism, and the Environment in the Middle East History, Policy, Power, and Practice Diana K. Davis 1

Chapter 1 "A Rebellion of Technology"

Development, Policing, and the British Arabian Imaginary Priya Satia 23

Chapter 2 Restoring Roman Nature

French Identity and North African Environmental History Diana K. Davis 60

Chapter 3 Body of Work

Water and Reimagining the Sahara in the Era of Decolonization George R. Trumbull IV 87

Chapter 4 From the Bottom Up

The Nile, Silt, and Humans in Ottoman Egypt Alan Mikhail 113

Chapter 5 Drafting a Map of Colonial Egypt

The 1902 Aswan Dam, Historical Imagination, and the Production of Agricultural Geography Jennifer L. Derr 136

Chapter 6 Remapping the Nation, Critiquing the State

Environmental Narratives and Desert Land Reclamation in Egypt Jeannie Sowers 158

Chapter 7 Salts, Soils, and (Un)Sustainabilities?

Analyzing Narratives of Environmental Change in Southeastern Turkey Leila M. Harris 192

Chapter 8 Hydro-Imaginaries and the Construction of the Political Geography of the Jordan River

The Johnston Mission, 1953-56 Samer Alatout 218

Chapter 9 Environmentalism Deferred

Nationalisms and Israeli/Palestinian Imaginaries Shaul Cohen 246

Afterword Timothy Mitchell 265

Contributors 275

Index 279

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