Book talk: 'City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk'


Wednesday, September 18, 2019, 4:30pm to 6:00pm


CMES, Rm 102, 38 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138

CMES Modern Middle East Speaker Series presents

Arbella Bet-ShlimonArbella Bet-Shlimon
Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Washington

Arbella Bet-Shlimon is a historian of the modern Middle East and assistant professor of History at the University of Washington. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization and an affiliate of the Jackson School's Middle East Center (UW). In her research and teaching, she focuses on the politics, society and economy of twentieth-century Iraq and the broader Persian Gulf region, as well as Middle Eastern urban history. In addition to specialized courses on these topics, she offers general introductory courses on the modern Middle East, including a survey of the Middle East since the nineteenth century. Bet-Shlimon's teaching has been recognized with several awards, including the UW's Distinguished Teaching Award.

Her first book, City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk (Stanford University Press, 2019), explores how oil and urbanization made ethnicity into a political practice in Kirkuk, a multilingual city that was the original hub of Iraq's oil industry. Bet-Shlimon finds that, over the course of the twentieth century, Kirkuk transformed from a provincial town into a prominent symbol of urban modernity, developing a distinct civic identity. However, the city became segregated and polarized as a result of British neocolonialism, urban development schemes, the expansion of the oil industry, and Baghdad's systematic attempts to integrate Kirkuk into an Arabized Iraq. Today, claims to Kirkuk's identity, as in so many disputed cities, have become reduced to a zero-sum game between ethnic communities—a phenomenon that, far from being predictable or inevitable, requires a historical perspective to be fully understood.

Her research has been funded by, among others, the American Historical Association, the UW Royalty Research Fund, and the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. She has published articles in the Journal of Urban History and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. She is on the board of the Academic Research Institute in Iraq.

Contact: Liz Flanagan