MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Roger Owen Book Award

The Roger Owen Book Award was first given in 2011 to honor Roger Owen, the A.J. Meyer Professor of Middle East History at Harvard University. Announced at the Awards Ceremony at MESA’s annual meeting, the biennial Roger Owen Book Award recognizes the very best in economics, economic history, or the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa scholarship.

Nomination Guidelines

Deadline April 1, 2019

The 2019 Roger Owen Book Award will seek nominations by publishers and authors in early 2019. Below is a list of criteria that should be met:

1. Subject matter must deal with economics, economic history or the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa (Mali to Pakistan) and the work must seek to advance knowledge and scholarship on these areas within the modern period (roughly 1750 to the present). Indeed, the purpose of the award is to encourage work in these fields and areas. The works considered should demonstrate substantive understanding of the historical, social and political implications of economic factors, theoretical sophistication and interpretive elegance.

2. Books must be non-fiction scholarly monographs based on original research published in English* between April 1, 2017, and March 31, 2019.
*Works translated from other languages into English will also be considered but will be judged by the same rigorous standards as those for works submitted in English. Authors need not be members of MESA.

3. Works not eligible include edited collections and compilations, proceedings of symposia, new editions of previously published books, bibliographies, dictionaries, and textbooks.

4. Nominations must be made by April 1, 2019, with books delivered to the readers by April 10, 2019 or books will not be eligible for the competition.

5. The author of the single winning book will receive $2000 and a certificate of award. The 2019 winner will be announced at the Awards Ceremony at the MESA annual meeting in New Orleans.

Inquiries should be addressed to Sara L. Palmer (see below)

To Nominate a Book (Deadline: April 1, 2019)

Send a letter of nomination and one copy of the book to the Book Awards Coordinator at the MESA Secretariat. Nominations need to be made by April 1, 2019; the book needs to arrive by April 10, 2019.

Sara L. Palmer, Book Awards Coordinator
2019 Roger Owen Award Competition
Middle East Studies Association
3542 N. Geronimo Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85705

520-333-2577 ext. 103
520-207-3166 (fax)

Please include the full title, author’s full name, publisher, and publication date of the book.

In addition, you will need to send one copy of the book to each of the three readers on the 2019 Roger Owen Book Award Committee. (once formed, their names will appear below)



Award Recipients



Johan Mathew, Rutgers University Margins of the Market: Trafficking and Capitalism across the Arabian Sea (University of California Press)

Margins of the Market is an empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated account of what realms of trade that move between the lawful and the illicit tell us about the market as a whole: how “free markets” came into being through the exclusion of certain practices as illegal “trafficking”; how struggles at the boundaries of the free market constituted capitalism itself. Using a wide array of archives from merchant families, banks, and various states (in India, Zanzibar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, and the United Kingdom) networked around the Arabian Sea of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the book documents how institutions, beliefs, cultural attitudes, and political structures shaped the operations of markets for slaves, weapons, and currency.

The book uses a carefully reconstructed social history to revise fundamental categories of political economy. The chapter on firearm regulation and commoditization recasts private property rights and the roles of violence in the market; the chapter on slavery documents how the dispersed social networks of the local slave trade meant that British abolitionist efforts focused on formal slave markets encouraged a distinct regime of human trafficking through non-market exchanges of adoption and marriage; the chapter on the struggle to establish a standardized currency tracks particular circulations of coins to demonstrate the limits of monetary authority. All these stories trace the persistence of trade patterns through changing regulatory regimes.

As a history of and from the “margins,” the book will provoke a broad rethinking in several fields. The author argues convincingly that a history of the geopolitical margins of the Middle East revises conventional accounts of British colonialism. The book returns to the center of the history of capitalism lost framings and practices of commercial activity. Particularly original is Mathew’s analysis of the materiality of the sea and the trade plied there: the specific ways that dhows worked; the changing definitions of private property; the physical properties and paths of monsoons and shorelines, the bodies of people, and the shape of bullets. Margins of the Market is inventive in its methodology, “big” in its theoretical scope and ambition, and an engaging, beautiful read. As a result, we expect it to influence scholarship in fields well beyond its own.


Honorable Mention

Hanan H. Hammad, Texas Christian University Industrial Sexuality: Gender, Urbanization, and Social Transformation in Egypt (University of Texas Press)

“This book offers an unparalleled socio-economic history of industrial transformation, with a focus on gender relations in a provincial city on the Nile Delta that was home to one of the region’s most important economic institutions and workplaces: Bank Misr’s Spinning and Weaving Company at Mahalla al-Kubra. Using a wide array of archival sources, including company records, state reports and petitions, court records, memoirs, maps, and extensive oral histories, the author excavates the mundane urban experiences of workers and makes visible previously untold patterns of provincial migration, informal male associations, family life, sex-work, women’s urban property ownership, and labor relations. Its documentation of how gender relations caused industrial transformation—and ultimately, the way that claims to control venereal disease functioned to recreate the local workforce and undermine national support of the workers’ struggle at Mahalla in the 1940s—brings sex-working and striking together to revise existing narratives of labor history and economic nationalism; it does so by offering us a rare history that unfolds from deep analysis of emerging and contested regimes of both masculinity and femininity. The book’s microhistorical reconstruction of the provincial town of Mahalla al-Kubra provides rich, thick description of the urban environment told through lively stories of individuals and groups usually absent from the historical record. Industrial Sexuality provides a more varied and complex view of an important company and workplace, a much-needed history of women industrial workers, and model for writing regional and provincial history. It will change the way we teach and research twentieth-century Egyptian history, labor history, and Middle East urban studies more generally.”


Zeinab Abul-Magd, Oberlin College
Imagined Empires: A History of Revolt in Egypt (University of California Press, 2013)


Nancy Reynolds, Washington University in St. Louis, A City Consumed: Urban Commerce, the Cairo Fire, and the Politics of Decolonization in Egypt (Stanford University Press)


Alan Mikhail, Yale University
Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History (Cambridge University Press, 2011)


The award is made possible by the generous support of donors who wish to honor the scholarship of Roger Owen and encourage wide ranging research incorporating economics and economic factors.

 Start of Page