The Political Economy Project, the Arab Studies Institute, and Middle East and Islamic Studies Program Present:
Jennifer L. Derr’s book is the Winner of the 2020 Political Economy Project’s Book Prize: The Lived Nile: Environment, Disease, and Material Colonial Economy in Egypt (Stanford University Press, 2019)
In October 1902, the waters of the Nile filled the reservoir of the first Aswan Dam, and Egypt’s historic relationship with the river changed forever. Egyptian agriculture had long depended on the annual Nile flood, its rhythm demarcating the seasons and determining cycles of poverty and prosperity. Beginning in the second decade of the nineteenth century and stretching through the middle of the twentieth, the Nile River was engineered to support the production of new cash crops that included cotton, sugarcane, and maize. The construction of the dam tamed the river’s waters and produced new agricultural environments. The Nile River that took form – the perennial Nile River – reshaped Egypt’s colonial economy and the forms of subjectivity with which it was associated. From the microscopic to the regional, the local to the imperial, Jennifer L. Derr’s book, The Lived Nile: Environment, Disease, and Material Colonial Economy in Egypt, places the environment at the center of questions about politics, knowledge, and the lived experience of human bodies. At the root of this investigation lies the notion that the Nile is not a singular entity but a realm of practice and a set of materially specific relations that structured experiences of colonial economy. The production of a new Nile River helped to mold the future of technocratic knowledge and shape the bodies of those who inhabited rural communities. In her talk, Derr will explore the material and epistemological histories of this profound transformation.