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  • Aaron Jakes

    Assistant Professor of History


    Office Location
    G - 80 Fifth Avenue

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    Aaron Jakes


    I am an Assistant Professor of History at The New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College, where I teach courses on the modern Middle East and South Asia, global environmental history, and the historical geography of capitalism.

    My first book project, published with Stanford University Press in summer 2020, is entitled Egypt's Occupation: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism. It explores both the political economy of the Egyptian state and the role of political-economic thought in the struggle over British rule following the occupation of 1882. For decades now, Egypt has appeared as a classic case of peripheral development. From this perspective, British rule simply reinforced Egypt’s prior status as a producer of raw cotton and a market for manufactured goods from Europe. All but obscured in this version of things 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 for the first time the story of that financial boom and the protracted crisis that followed. And it argues that this long-neglected process of financialization was of central importance to the politics of British rule. Across the three decades of Britain’s “veiled protectorate,” Egypt's Occupation traces the complex career of the discourse I label “colonial economism.” From the outset, British officials held that Egyptians, as political subjects, were capable of no more and no less than a recognition of their own bare material interests; the legitimacy of foreign 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-economic theories upon which Britain’s reforms had rested. In time, their efforts to find grounds for national sovereignty beyond the mere calculus of economic gain and loss influenced popular interpretations of such basic categories as crisis, progress, and independence.

    I have also begun work on a collaboration with my colleague Hussein Omar at the University of Oxford. Tentatively entitled The Fanatical Radical: the Life and Thought of ‘Abd al-Aziz Jawish, the project reexamines the long career of one of the most important and creative political thinkers of the early twentieth century. When mentioned at all in existing histories, the itinerant North African journalist, educator, organizer, and strategist appears as a figure of almost singular ignominy: a “violent orator,” an “extremist leader,” and a “religious fanatic.” Rather than a faithful assessment of his ideas, we argue that these labels indexed the challenge that Jawish’s idiosyncratic brand of scholar activism posed to the imperial order of his day. Like many of Egypt’s leading intellectuals at the time, Jawish was a student of Muhammad ‘Abduh, and we read his life’s work as a road not taken by modern Islamic thought, one that briefly transformed the horizons of political possibility across much of the Islamic world only to be eclipsed by the influence of ‘Abduh’s more famous disciple Rashid Rida.

    Finally, I have begun working on a longer-term project entitled Tilted Waters: The World the Suez Canal Made. Covering a long expanse of time from the late eighteenth century to the present, the book explores the many and shifting roles of the Suez Canal in the production of global inequalities. 

    Degrees Held

    PhD 2015, NYU

    MPhil 2005, University of Oxford

    BA 2003, Yale University 

    Professional Affiliation

    • Middle East Studies Association
    • American Historical Association
    • Association of American Geographers
    • American Research Center in Egypt
    • Arab Studies Institute, Political Economy Project

    Recent Publications

    w/ Ahmad Shokr, "Finding Value in Empire of Cotton," Critical Historical Studies Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 2017), pp. 107-136.

    "Review: John Chalcraft, Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016)," Middle East Journal Volume 70, No. 4 (Autumn 2016): pp. 688-691.

    Boom, Bugs, Bust: Egypt's Ecology of Interest, 1882-1914,” Antipode (February 2016).

    Review Essay: A New Materialism? Globalization and Technology in the Age of Empire,” International Journal of Middle East Studies Vol. 47, No. 2 (April 2015), pp. 369-381.

    The Scales of Public Utility: Agricultural Roads and State Space in the Era of the British Occupation” in Marilyn Booth and Anthony Gorman, eds., The Long 1890s in Egypt (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2014), pp. 57-86.

    “Review: Raouf Abbas & Assem El-Dessouky, The Large Landowning Class and the Peasantry in Egypt, 1837-1952, Amer Mohsen with Mona Zirki trans., (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2012)," Economic History Review, 66, 2 (2013): pp. 676-8.

    Review Essay: The Invisible State,” Arab Studies Journal Vol. XX, No. 1(Spring 2012), pp. 236-245.

    Review: Michael Ezekiel Gasper, The Power of Representation: Publics, Peasants, and Islam in Egypt (2009),” Arab Studies Journal Vol. XVIII, No. 1 (Spring 2010), pp. 374-8.


    "A Yale program drew fire over donor meddling. Its real problem was promoting war," The Washington Post (October 11, 2021). 

    "The World the Suez Canal Made," Public Seminar (April 2, 2021).


    "A World of Disasters: Famine, Plague, and Crisis in Global History," talk at The New School for Social Research, June 11, 2020.

    Research Interests

    Modern Middle East, Modern South Asia, historical geography of capitalism, environmental history, colonialism and imperialism, agrarian studies, political ecology, state theory, social movements, comparative methodologies and histories of comparison

    Awards And Honors

    Agrarian Studies Fellowship, Yale University, 2017-2018

    Malcolm H. Kerr Award for Best Dissertation in the Social Sciences, Middle East Studies Association, November 2015

    Dean's Outstanding Dissertation Award in the Humanities, NYU, May 2015

    Dissertation Completion Fellowship, Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies, 2013-2014

    American Research Center in Egypt Fellowship, 2012

    Social Science Research Council, International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 2011

    Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad, 2010-2011

    Foreign Language and Area Studies Summer Language Fellowship (Urdu), 2010

    Center for Arabic Study Abroad, CASA II Fellowship, 2010

    Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, NYU, 2009

    Social Science Research Council, Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship, 2009

    Center for Arabic Study Abroad, CASA I Fellowship, 2006-2007

    Henry Fellowship (University of Oxford), 2003-2004

    Future Courses

    Independent Senior Project
    LHIS 4990, Fall 2022

    Independent Study
    LHIS 3950, Fall 2022

    Past Courses

    Historical Capitalism
    LHIS 4547, Fall 2021

    Historical Capitalism
    GHIS 5240, Fall 2021

    Independent Senior Project
    LHIS 4990, Spring 2022

    Independent Study
    GHIS 6990, Spring 2022

    Independent Study
    LHIS 3950, Fall 2021, Spring 2022

    Oil, Energy, and Power
    LHIS 3036, Spring 2022

    The World The Suez Canal Made
    LHIS 3415, Spring 2022

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