Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, History & Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Harvard University
Empires of Suspicion: Intelligence, Power, and Social Trust in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1900-1935

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the fading of the old imperial order and the coming of a new one clouded an already complicated question: who was a patriot and who a traitor? My dissertation reexamines World War I and its contentious aftermath from the perspective of Arabs who were both badly needed by and deeply suspicious to three empires: Ottoman, British, and French. The Young Turk regime that ruled the Ottoman Empire in the 1910s doubted the loyalty of Arab subjects, making them tantalizing recruits for Allied intelligence agencies. Yet many continued to serve in the Ottoman army and bureaucracy through World War I. They were uniquely positioned to provide all sides with information—and misinformation. I demonstrate how Arabs engaged with, coopted, and evaded the imperial intelligence apparatuses designed both to monitor and to employ them. Connecting archival documents, newspaper records, and memoirs in Arabic, Turkish, French, and English, I aim to untangle flows of information among underground Arab separatist organizations and between informants stationed throughout Egypt and Greater Syria and the imperial bureaucracies they served. How did three imperial information regimes shape the futures of Arabs caught between them? Many of the new nation-states carved from the remains of the Ottoman Empire developed into police states infamous for anxiety about information. This was not solely a consequence of the war. In the decade that preceded it, I will show, the ascendancy of mass politics paralleled and motivated the extension of state secrecy. This stimulated the invention of a new category of “political crimes,” which undergirded the engagement of wider and deeper networks of informants. But World War I crystallized what would become a defining feature of post-independence police states—the blurry line between agents of surveillance and its objects. Emphasizing the making and unmaking of social trust, my project looks to a liminal moment when what one said, and to whom, truly mattered for the future of the Middle East.