Roger Owen Book Award

Alan Mikhail

Yale University

2011 Winner

Alan Mikhail

Alan Mikhail

The inaugural Roger Owen award for the best book in economics, economic history, or political economy of the Middle East and North Africa in the modern period goes to Alan Mikhail for his book, Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History, published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. Fittingly, this book, like much of the work of Professor Owen, deals with agriculture, the Nile, and Egypt. Based on an impressive use of primary sources materials in the Egyptian and Ottoman archives, the work is a pioneering study in environmental history, highlighting the relationships between the imperial state and its most important province, Egypt. Nature and Empire treats the full panoply of environmental factors that impinged on the history of human beings in Ottoman Egypt—animals, diseases, crops, as well as the dicta from Istanbul and Ottoman agents in Cairo. Professor Mikhail demonstrates that in the early centuries of Ottoman rule over Egypt, straight up to the eighteenth century, officials from the imperial capital deferred to the Egyptian peasantry. In matters relating to the regulation of the Nile and crop planting, officials realized that peasants understood the rhythms of the Nile and fecundity of the soil better than they. But over the course of the long eighteenth century, culminating in the reign of Mehmet Ali, local autonomy gave way to the ambitions of powerful rulers, based in Cairo. Egyptian peasants, increasingly enumerated and regulated by bureaucrats, took their instructions from Cairo, lost their autonomy, and became cogs in a modern government machine. This is a book that demonstrates that local archival sources enable historians to investigate the day-to-day activities of peasant populations in the Middle East and to chart dramatic alterations in their life styles. In Egypt these changes resulted from changes in the irrigation system and the demands of powerful rulers.


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