In The Middle East and the Making of the Modern World, Cyrus Schayegh presents an innovative socio-spatial history that traces how different geographic areas and networks molded the Middle East from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
Centering his study on an area roughly coextensive with modern Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel and Palestine, Schayegh examines the complex interplay of local and transregional forces in a diverse territory that first came under Ottoman rule in the 1500s. For centuries, the major cities of this region—Damascus, Aleppo, Jerusalem, and Beirut—exercised a degree of autonomy. But in the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire, responding to the rise of a Eurocentric world economy and European imperialism, attempted to exert greater administrative control. Cities remained powerful, but their ties to one another grew stronger as the region became more integrated. These developments did not cease with the Ottoman Empire’s collapse after World War I. Partitioned by the victorious British and French, this territory (known in Arabic as Bilād al-Shām) became an umbrella region from which new nation states would emerge—states whose very foundations were transnational and tied together multiple urban areas.
Building on the Middle Eastern case, Schayegh argues that the making of the modern world is best seen as the reciprocal transformation of cities, regions, states, and global networks.