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Cyrus Schayegh

  • Near Eastern Studies
Position: Core Faculty
Title: Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies. Director, Program in Near Eastern Studies.
  • Cold War history
  • Post-Ottoman Levant
  • Pre-revolutionary twentieth-century Iran
  • Transnational and global history
Office: 108 Jones Hall
Phone: 609-258-1296

PhD, Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University
I became fascinated with the modern Middle East in high school in Switzerland. The turmoil of the region seemed to my teenage self to be the perfect antidote to the tranquil atmosphere of my native country. Determined to get as much exposure to the contemporary Middle East as possible and a solid education to boot, I enrolled in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I earned a BA in 1996. I then returned to Switzerland, where I received a DES in Political Science from Geneva University and, in 1997, moved on to Columbia University, where I earned my PhD (MEALAC) in early 2004.
In my dissertation, I tried to combine social history and the history of colonial science. The book Who Is Knowledgeable Is Strong: Science, Class, and the Formation of Modern Iranian Society, 1900-1950 tells two intertwined stories: how, in early twentieth-century Iran, an emerging middle class used modern scientific knowledge as its cultural and economic capital, and how, along with the state, it employed biomedical sciences to tackle presumably modern problems like the increasing stress of everyday life, people's defective willpower, and demographic stagnation.
Determined to spend more time in Iran than the occasional short research trip, I moved to Tehran after defending my PhD, and stayed until summer 2005. I moonlighted as a journalist for Swiss newspapers; had a fascinating (and sleepless) experience trying to help organize, as temporary employee of the International Organization of Migration, the out-of-country leg of the January 2005 Iraqi parliamentary elections in the Iranian province of Khuzestan; and, as a post-doctoral fellow at the Tehran Institute for Management and Planning Studies, initiated a project on the rise of technopolitics under the Pahlavi monarchy.
In fall 2005, I started working as assistant professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the American University of Beirut. Lebanon was a strategic choice: while maintaining my interest in modern Iranian history, I wanted to branch out and start doing research also on the Arab world. As important, after moving to Princeton in 2008, I started to thinking of my work through transnational and global lenses. The outcome is my present, second, book, to be published in 2015 by Harvard University Press, Transnationalization: A History of the Modern Middle East. Using archives, oral history, and printed matter from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine/Israel, Jordan, France, Britain, Germany, and the USA, it examines the sociospatial manifestations of economic, cultural, and administrative processes in Greater Syria (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine) during a transformative century, from 1850-1950. It argues, first, that millennia-old cities and tightening translocal ties were pivots of people’s social and perceptional universe even in a globalized world of late empires and, after 1918, nation-states; but that after 1918, those nation-states in turn ‘nationalized’ those cities and, with the new European rulers, ‘transnationalized’ those cities’ (now often cross-border) translocal ties. Second, from about 1850 Greater Syria started becoming a more integrated patchwork region. After 1918, it, too, affected nation-states and European imperial rulers. But by the 1930s, it became an umbrella region for ‘its’ four countries, which were very tightly tied together yet also very mindful of their own interests. This book addresses Middle East historians, who, while aware of the constructedness of nation-states, often choose them as their unit of analysis: histories involving the post-Ottoman states are often histories of them. Most historians stick to the nation-state frame time-wise, too: few straddle 1918. Also, my book engages debates about time and space in transnational history. Unlike many transnational historians, I study not a situation but a process, which is a century long and crosses the 1918 threshold. Also, I show that transnational history can and ought to transcend its focus on horizontal ties – for instance between elites, or cities, or migrant communities – and study vertical ties between actors operating across local, regional, nation-state, and global scales.
My next book project, “The First/Third World go-between city: Revisiting the Post-World War II Globalization Slowdown from Early Post-Colonial Beirut and Dakar,” is a global history, but like my present book, it is grounded in specific places. From the 1950s-1970s, Beirut and Dakar (like a handful of functionally comparable cities, including Singapore, which may end up being part of the book) were what I call First/Third World go-between cities: intensely laissez-faire trade/finance/consumer/air and tele-communication/political spaces where two groups met, Western economic and Cold War state actors, and early post-colonial Arab and African state and private actors. This had three reasons. The 2 cities had from the mid- to late 19th century been cultural-economic centers for their respective region, the Arab East and West Africa; after the end of empire, in the mid-20th century, Western state and corporate actors kept various interests in those regions (e.g. raw materials, trade, strategy); and the numerous new, fledgling nation-states and peoples of the Arab East/Arabia and of West Africa for a limited time still needed Beirut’s and Dakar’s expertise and their linkages to Western finance markets and to global trade circuits and communication networks. This case qualifies the thesis that from the 1940s-1970s, globalization slowed. Adding a new conceptual aspect to recent global studies of the post-war period, and combining global city studies with decolonization studies, it shows that in a handful of crucial early postcolonial cities, nation-state controls of global capital and culture and trade flows were limited­. Those urban nodes were vital: they bundled and eased interactions, for an entire region, between Western and multiple early post-colonial state and private actors.

Selected professional activities:

Board member, 2013–2014, of the International Journal of Middle East Studies

Board member, International Society of Iranian Studies, 2009–2012

Assistant editor, Iranian Studies


Selected awards / scholarships:

PhD scholarship ‘for young scholars’, jointly administered by the Swiss National Foundation for Scientific Research (SNF) and the Swiss Academy for Humanities and Social Sciences (SAGW) (2001–02)

Dissertation Award for the best dissertation in the field of Iranian Studies, Foundation for Iranian Studies Annual (2004)

Scholarship ‘for advanced scholars’, administered by the Swiss National Foundation for Scientific Research (2008–2010)


Selected publications

•              Transnationalization: A History of the Modern Middle East, under contract with Harvard University Press, to be published in 2015.

•              co-editor, with Andrew Arsan, The Routledge History Handbook of the Middle East Mandates (London and New York: Routledge, forthcoming).
•             "The Mandates as Decolonization: Preliminary Thoughts," in The Routledge History Handbook of the Middle East Mandates (forthcoming)

•              co-editor, with Liat Kozma and Avner Wishnitzer, A Global Middle East: Mobility, Materiality and Culture in the Modern Age, 18801940 (London: Tauris, 2014).

•              "On Scales and Spaces: Reading Gottlieb Schumacher's The Jaulan (1888)," in A Global Middle East: Mobility, Materiality and Culture in the Modern Age, 18801940, eds. Liat Kozma, Cyrus Schayegh, and Avner Wishnitzer (London: Tauris, 2014), 19–54.

•              "The Man in the Middle: Developmentalism and Cold War at the Beirut Economic Research Institute in-between the U.S. and the Middle East, 1952–1967," in 150 Years AUB: A Commemorative Volume, eds. Nadia El Cheick and Bilal Orfali (Beirut: AUB Press, forthcoming).

•               "Reflections on writing AUB history in a global age," co-authored with Aleksandra Kobiljski, in 150 Years AUB. A Commemorative Volume, eds. Nadia El Cheick and Bilal Orfali (Beirut: AUB Press, forthcoming).

•              "1958 Reconsidered: State Formation and the Cold War in the Early Postcolonial Arab Middle East," International Journal of Middle East Studies 45:3 (August 2013): 421–43.

•              "The Karaj Dam Affair: Emerging Mass Consumerism, the Politics of Promise, and the Cold War in the Early Post-war Third World," Comparative Studies in Society and History 54:3 (2012): 612–43.

•              "‘Who’s Who in Syria?’ A Note on a Historical Source from the Mid-Twentieth Century," Middle East Critique 20:2 (2011): 219–24.

•              "The Many Worlds of Abud Yasin; or, What Narcotics Trafficking in the Interwar Middle East Can Tell Us about Territorialization," American Historical Review 116:2 (2011): 273–306.

•              “Seeing Like a State”. An Essay on the Historiography of Modern Iran,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 37–61.

•              Who Is Knowledgeable Is Strong: Science, Class, and the Formation of Modern Iranian Society, 1900-1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009).

•              “Criminal-women and Mother-women: Socio-cultural Transformations and the Critique of Criminality in Early Post-World War Two Iran,” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 2:3 (2006), 1–21.

•              Serial Murder in Tehran: Crime, Science, and the Formation of Modern State and Society in Interwar Iran,” Journal for Comparative Studies in Society and History 47:4 (2005), 836–62.