Models of geographical space are empowered by a hard rhetoric that, in suggesting the concrete stability of the longue durée, lends the aura of geological fixity. But while places might themselves be sheer facts, our conceptions of them both in themselves and in relation to other places are cultural constructions born in particular moments in time. A coinage of the early twentieth century to demarcate a strategic middle ground between the “Near” and “Far” East, the “Middle East” is itself a relatively new category whose history has been far less stable than its hard rhetoric might suggest. In pointing to the mutability of geographical models, Green aims not so much to historicize but to question the continued usefulness of the more formal, closed model of the Middle East. For all such geographical models are ultimately analytical categories that are meant to enable us to trace forms of connectivity and commonality. And like any other analytical categories, geographical ones deserve no special treatment once they have outlived their usefulness. This seems particularly the case when we look to the geographical frameworks that have actually enabled original scholarship over the past decade or so, particularly the shift toward maritime conceptions of space (Mediterranean, Indian Ocean), which though by no means new have breathed new life into the study of the premodern and colonial/modern history of the Middle East. The rise of global and connected history has similar implications for the closedness and fixity of the traditional area studies paradigm, which, Green contends, doesn’t help us meet the challenge and possibilities provided by the emergence of these new forms of history writing.
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Nile Green; Rethinking the “Middle East” After the Oceanic Turn. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2014; 34 (3): 556–564. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2826109
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