While no one disputes the importance of oil to the history of the Middle East, we know surprisingly little about how the social and technical life of oil has shaped that history. Conventional ways of writing social and political history treat technical problems of producing, processing, and selling oil as practices that are external to the social world. Oil in turn has an "impact" on society. Yet the technical development of oil in the Middle East did not encounter society or the economy as preexisting spheres in this way. Techniques of extracting and controlling oil demanded the development over several decades of new kinds of workers, property rights, engineering skills, geological knowledge, transportation systems, and political forces. Taking the case of the region's first oil industry, in Iran, my project examines how the creation of a political economy of petroleum involved the building of simultaneously social and technical worlds. Using archival research of governmental and business records, my project builds on the current scholarship in the social study of science and technology. The outcome is a new approach to history and politics as socio-technical processes. Through a study of oil in Iran, I propose that we cannot adequately understand the politics of the Middle East without taking seriously its technical dimensions, and that the technical world of oil can be understood properly only in terms of the historical and political forces through which that world has been shaped.