Ecology and Empire in Ottoman Egypt

with Alan Mikhail

70. Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt

Ottoman life was deeply embedded in the countryside and rural production, and thus, issues of irrigation and ecology surrounding the production of staple food crops ranked high on the list of imperial concerns. In this episode, Alan Mikhail explains the ecological history of the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and its breadbasket in Egypt, and explores other issues related to the nascent field of Middle East environmental history.

Alan Mikhail is an Assistant Professor of History at Yale University
Emrah Safa Gürkan is a recent Ph.D. from the department of history at Georgetown University specializing in the early modern Mediterranean and Ottoman Empire (see
Chris Gratien is a PhD candidate studying the history of the modern Middle East at Georgetown University (see

Citation: "Ecology and Empire: An Environmental History of Egypt and the Ottoman State," Alan Mikhail, Chris Gratien, and Emrah Safa Gürkan, Ottoman History Podcast, No. 70 (September 16, 2012)

Episode Music: Oum Kalthoum - Hawwalna Magra al-Neel (حولنا مجرى النيل)

This song entitled "We Changed the Course of the Nile" was recorded by Egypt's most prominent singer Oum Kalthoum to celebrate the completion of the Aswan Dam and the achievements of the Nasserist state. The chorus of the song, "We changed the course of the Nile, wow what a transformation!," and the verses relating to the perspective impacts stress the importance of the event as a momentous departure in the history of Egypt, yet as we have shown in the podcast, Egyptian peasants were changing the course of the Nile, albeit in more subtle ways that nonetheless equally changed the course of Ottoman history.

Select Bibliography

Mikhail, Alan. Nature and empire in Ottoman Egypt : an environmental history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Mikhail, Alan. Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Mitchell, Timothy. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Tvedt, Terje. The River Nile in the Age of the British Political Ecology and the Quest for Economic Power. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.

Faroqhi, Suraiya. Animals and People in the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul: Eren, 2010.


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