In this episode, Huma Gupta and Camille Cole discuss Egypt’s occupation and the history of capitalism as both a social and an ecological process with Aaron Jakes. Jakes is the Assistant Professor of History and Co-Director of Capitalism Studies at the New School. His forthcoming book Egypt’s Occupation: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism examines how the capitalist boom - and then bust - in early twentieth-century Egypt unfolded socially, politically, and environmentally. Cotton came to dominate the Egyptian economy and ecology by the late nineteenth century, and many scholars have written about how it fueled Egypt’s dependent status in the world economy. Today, we go beyond cotton’s economic role to talk about how colonial administrators and Egyptian nationalists alike understood Egyptian peasants and the Egyptian environment. These ideas about Egyptians as “fundamentally materialist” fueled the implementation of agricultural policies framed as “experiments” in governance. When those experiments, by the early twentieth century, produced adverse ecological and economic results - from cotton worm infestations to a credit crisis - British officials blamed Egyptians, without sacrificing an economized view of the environment that remains with us today.
Aaron G. Jakes is Assistant Professor of History at The New School, where he teaches on the modern Middle East and South Asia, global environmental history, and the historical geography of capitalism. His first book Egypt’s Occupation: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism was published by Stanford University Press.
Camille Cole is a Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge University. Cole completed her PhD in History at Yale University. Her dissertation, “Empire on Edge: Land, Law, and Capital in Gilded Age Basra,” examined how wealthy elites in late Ottoman Basra used state tools and vocabularies alongside legal and illegal environmental manipulation and novel financial practices to accumulate land. Her work can be found in the Journal of Social History, Middle Eastern Studies, and South Asian History and Culture.
Huma Gupta is a scholar of environmental planning and the political economy of architecture. Gupta is a postdoctoral fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, where she is working on two book projects: "Dwelling and the Architecture of Dispossession" and "Dwelling and the Wealth of Nations." In 2020, she completed her dissertation "Migrant Sarifa Settlements and State-Building in Iraq" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she was a fellow in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.
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