Current and Future Research
I am a historian of the modern Middle East, specializing in the introduction of science and technology into non-Western settings. My most recent book examines how the introduction of new technologies such as the railway or telegraph generated in Egypt unique practices of timekeeping, conviviality, and personhood. Devices hailed in England as driving forces of promptness obeyed in Egypt a double temporal standard whereby a strict metropolitan punctuality was contrasted with a laxer colonial one. Egyptians, in turn, understood this difference as one of an “Egyptian time” opposed to “alienating European efficiency.” Exploring such processes, my study retraces timekeeping practices in Egypt back to their technological and colonial origins.
Shifting from technologies to the energy sources that fueled them, my next book project seeks to situate the adoption of coal and the steam engine in a global context. It explores how the percolation of British coal into the Middle East simultaneously fueled the region’s uneven modernization and, by offering new markets and coaling depots, enabled developments in steam navigation and politics in the colonies and metropole alike, albeit along very different trajectories.
Finally, I am launching another book project, on the history and anthropology of archives in the Middle East. The project examines how an archive’s own history, its changing institutional culture, and the possibilities of access to stored materials all shape the range and kinds of history that may be exhumed in it. And vice versa, it explores also how the different meanings attached to archived documents by political, academic, and economical actors inform the dispositions of archivists and their various clients.