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Cyrus Schayegh

  • Near Eastern Studies
Position: Core Faculty
Title: Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies.
  • Post-Ottoman Levant
  • Pre-revolutionary twentieth-century Iran
  • Transnational history; social 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. Now a 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. Before long, perhaps also because of the underlying tension between ‘my’ Lebanese present and the years I had spent in Israel/Palestine, I became interested in the post-Ottoman past of the Levant also as a region rather than simply as a collection of countries. In my principal current project, hopefully my next book, I am re-thinking the interwar Levant as an area formed by the interplay between new states and cross-border movements of goods and people. My argument is that because the Levant was strongly integrated by World War I, its subsequent division also (and somewhat counter-intuitively) begot further integration. I tackle this complex process by exploring six central aspects: physical and, related, mental geographies of the region, colonial governing, trade patterns and geo-economic competition, social networks especially of merchants, labor migration, and material culture. I am also working on a series of specific case studies that examine how in early post-war Iran and the Arab World, state-society relations, economic development and the Cold War intersected.

I had the fortune of joining NES in fall 2008, and have started to teach courses in three main areas: the social history of the modern Middle East, and more particularly of the Levant; the history of Arab-Israeli relations, especially during the British Mandate; and modern Iran.


Selected professional activities:

Board member, since 2013, of the International Journal of Middle East Studies

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

Organizer, since 2009, of the Princeton University Middle East Seminar (

Review 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

•              "The Emergence of the Modern Middle East: a Transnational History," under contract with Harvard University Press, to be published in 2014.

•              coeditor, with Liat Kozma and Avner Wishnitzer, A Global Middle East: Mobility, Materiality and Culture in the Modern Age, 1880-1940 (London: Tauris, forthcoming)

•              "Reading Gottlieb Schumacher's The Jaulan (1888). An Essay on the Interplay between Local, Trans-local, Regional, Ottoman Imperial, and Global Forces in Late Ottoman Bilad al-Sham," in A Global Middle East: Mobility, Materiality and Culture in the Modern Age, 1880-1940, eds. Liat Kozma, Cyrus Schayegh and Avner Wishnitzer (London: Tauris, forthcoming)

•              "AUB's Economic Research Institute (ERI),1952-1967: An Institutional History," 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): 612-643

•              "‘Who’s Who in Syria?’ A Note on a Historical Source from the Mid-Twentieth Century," Middle East Critique 20:2 (2011): 219–224

•              "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), 836-862