Keynote Lecture: The Ecology of Natural Boundaries - Fixing Egypt's Frontiers

FEB 20, 2014 | 6:30 PM TO 8:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




February 20, 2014: 6:30 PM-8:00 PM





MEMEAC co-sponsor: The Center for Humanities


Perhaps more than other nation state, Egypt has been defined, since antiquity, from its geographical center—the strip of cultivatable land along the Nile River. Scholarship has followed this practice, focusing on urban and rural centers along the river. However, Egypt’s legal frontiers lie far from this arable strip in surrounding deserts. Egyptian, Ottoman, and colonial surveyors worked hard to define, out of “the very broken nature of the country,” boundaries that were “fair and just…[fulfilling] the conditions of an approximately straight line; [that] is likewise geographical and natural… and… strategical.” Claims of ownership over tribes, wells, trees, watersheds, mountain passes, historical sites, and geomorphic landforms rested on novel understandings of ecology, geology, geography, and nature. Two moments of delimitation offer comparative cases for understanding the role and recruitment of “nature” in establishing the “frontier” of Egyptian territory: the work of the Sinai Boundary Commission in 1906 and the survey teams established during the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.

Nancy Y. Reynolds is associate professor in History, with affiliated appointments in Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research concentrates on the cultural and social history of twentieth-century Egypt. Her first book, A City Consumed: Urban Commerce, the Cairo Fire, and the Politics of Decolonization in Egypt, was published in 2012 by Stanford University Press. Her work on Egyptian department stores and textiles has appeared in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of Women’s History, European Review of History, and Arab Studies Journal. She is currently writing a new book, titled “A Pyramid for the Living”: Environment, Race, Development Politics, and Egypt’s Aswan High Dam, 1956-1971."