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Aaron Jakes On Research Leave: 2023-2024 Office: William Rainey Harper Memorial Library, East Tower, room 689 Mailbox 13 Phone: (773) 834-6771 Email Interests:

Middle East history; capitalism; economic history; British Empire; environmental history; global and comparative history; political and social movements; political-economic thought

Assistant Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History and the College

New York University, PhD '15


I am a scholar of the modern Middle East specializing in the historical geography of global capitalism, comparative studies of colonialism and empire, and environmental history.

Over the past decade of research and teaching, my overarching concern has been to address, simultaneously, two related challenges. First, as a historian of the postcolonial world, I am to pursue and develop new approaches to the critical study of global capitalism that demonstrate the continued relevance of insights and concerns that have animated the long and varied tradition of political economy. But second, drawing directly on the critiques of Eurocentrism and economic determinism that have been so central to the project of postcolonial studies, I seed to produce and teach historical narratives that unsettle the longstanding tendency to treat the “rest of the world” as mere passive recipients of ideas and processes that originate elsewhere.

My first book project, Egypt’s Occupation: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism (Stanford University Press, 2020) explores both the political economy of the Egyptian state and the role of political-economic thought in the struggle over British rule in Egypt following the occupation of 1882. For decades, Egypt has stood as a paradigmatic case of peripheral development in the capitalist world economy. From this perspective, the advent of Britain’s “veiled protectorate” after 1882 simply reinforced Egypt’s prior status as a vast plantation for the production of raw cotton and a market for industrial goods from Europe. All but obscured in such accounts is Egypt’s emergence as a key site for investment and experimentation in the worldwide financial expansion that characterized global capitalism at the close of the nineteenth century. Egypt’s Occupation tells the story of that financial boom and the crisis that followed. And the book goes on to demonstrate that this long-neglected process of financialization was of central importance to the politics of British rule. Across the four decades from the invasion of 1882 to Britain’s unilateral declaration of Egyptian independence in 1922, Egypt’s Occupation traces the complex career of the discourse I refer to as “colonial economism.” From the outset, British officials held that Egyptians, as racially distinctive human subjects, were capable of no more and no less than a bare recognition of their immediate material interests; the legitimacy of imperial rule would, accordingly, vary as a direct function of the “economic development” that British reform could deliver. In grappling with a discourse of colonial improvement that appeared to be succeeding on its own terms, Egypt’s early nationalist thinkers elaborated their own alternative accounts of the ephemeral and uneven qualities of financialization. They thereby articulated a range of rigorous, if fragmentary, critiques of the political and economic theories upon which the British had built their project of rule. In time, these efforts to find grounds for national sovereignty beyond the mere calculus of economic gain and lost shaped both the conceptual apparatus and the political strategies through which a growing nationalist movement sought to bring the occupation to an end.

Over the past few years, I have begun work on a new project, tentatively entitled Tilted Waters: The World the Suez Canal Made. Spanning more than two centuries, from the earliest European proposals to excavate a channel through the Isthmus of Suez to the Egyptian military regime’s current efforts to remake the waterway and its environs  into a major processing hub and free trade zone, the book will explore the many and shifting roles that the Suez Canal has played in the production of global inequalities.

Before joining the Department of History, I was assistant professor of historical studies at The New School in New York City. I have also held fellowships at Yale University’s Program in Agrarian Studies and George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies.

Recent Research / Recent Publications

Selected Publications