University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > All POLIS Department Seminars and Events > Drinking the Sea: The Technopolitics of Pilgrimage, Potable Water, and Petroleum in Arabia

Drinking the Sea: The Technopolitics of Pilgrimage, Potable Water, and Petroleum in Arabia

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The provisioning of potable water was a microcosm of the Ottoman state’s incomplete projects of modernization on the Arab frontier. Water questions sat at the intersection between international pressures surrounding cholera, drought, Wahhabi and Bedouin disorder, and the inability of the state to impose its will on the semi-autonomous Amirate of Mecca. Through the lens of the technopolitical frontier this talk seeks to tell a larger story about the evolution of state building and development in Arabia, one that would otherwise be obscured without reference to its late Ottoman, Indian Ocean, Saudi, and even wider transnational histories. By viewing the evolution of hydraulic management in the Hijaz as a continuous process, stretching across the long nineteenth century and into the latter half of the twentieth century, we discover that the quest for hajj-related water security played a critical role both in setting the stage for both the discovery of the Saudi Arabia’s massive petroleum reserves and the kingdom’s total embrace of desalination technology. In turn, we gain a new perspective on the entangled natures of oil and water production in the Arabian Peninsula.

Speaker biography: Michael Christopher Low is Assistant Professor of History at Iowa State University. He received his PhD from Columbia University. Drawing on Ottoman and British archival sources as well as published materials in Arabic and modern Turkish, his current book project, The Mechanics of Mecca, analyzes how Mecca and the steamship-era hajj simultaneously became objects of Ottoman and European technological modernization, global public health, international law, border and passport regulations, and inter-imperial competition during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This talk is part of the All POLIS Department Seminars and Events series.

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