Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Near & Middle East Civilizations, University of Toronto

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Columbia University
On a Biplane: Aerial Photography and the Politics of Space in the Middle East (1895-1950)

My dissertation examines the history of aerial photography in the Middle East through the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of independent states in Syria under French mandate, Iraq under British rule and in the Republic of Turkey (1895-1950.) First, my project explores the social construction of this technology at a time when, upon the fall of the empire, aerial mapping became instrumental to the charting of former Ottoman territories. There, aerial photographs were able to capture the coexistence of sedentary, semi-nomadic and nomadic communities with an unprecedented clarity and the development of aerial mapping disseminated conceptions of human geography that enabled the classification this diverse population along sectarian lines. Therefore, I examine the history of aerial photography as the development of not only a visual device but also a historically contingent way of seeing that shaped the Middle East at this critical juncture in time. Second, my research follows aerial mapping in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey in order to trace the deployment of this new visual practice in policies aimed at obliterating Ottoman institutions. In Syria and Iraq under colonial occupation, I question whether these policies destroyed important contact-zones that were characteristic of the Ottoman Empire by confining various populations within designated geographical areas. Additionally, I examine the modernization of Ottoman cartography by the Republic of Turkey in light of nationalist narratives that embraced notions of human geography in order to classify the Anatolian population into new categories such as 'Turks' and 'mountain Turks.' By tracing connections among aerial photography, human geography, and the dismantling of the Ottoman polity, my dissertation unravels the technological and scientific history of sectarianism as way to shed new light on the transition from empire to nation-state in the Middle East.