New Books Network

Arbella Bet-Shlimon

City of Black Gold

Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk

Stanford University Press 2019

New Books in HistoryNew Books in Islamic StudiesNew Books in Middle Eastern StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network January 14, 2020 Joshua Donovan

In her debut book, City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk (Stanford University Press, 2019), Arbella Bet-Shlimon explores the vibrant and...

In her debut book, City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk (Stanford University Press, 2019), Arbella Bet-Shlimon explores the vibrant and often troubled history of one of Iraq’s most diverse and oil-rich cities. Bet-Shlimon begins at the twilight of the Ottoman Empire, illustrating the fluidity of identities in the multilingual and multiethnic city of Kirkuk. She then explains how ethnic identity as such was constituted and sharpened through the processes of colonialism, post-colonial state-formation, and urbanization. Throughout her sweeping account of 20th-century Kirkuk, Bet-Shlimon is sensitive to how stories about the past can speak to the present-day concerns of Kirkuk’s Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen populations. At the same time, she is attentive to how power shapes historical narratives and has fueled competing claims about Kirkuk and its place in the modern Iraqi state. By focusing on this peripheral but important city, Bet-Shlimon’s City of Black Gold offers its readers crucial insights into the issues of oil and ethnic conflict, which continue to shape Iraq in the 21st century.

Arbella Bet-Shlimon is an associate professor of History and an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington. She received her PhD at Harvard University and has written a number of articles on the political, social, and economic history of modern Iraq.


Joshua Donovan is a PhD candidate at Columbia University’s Department of History. His dissertation examines competing conceptions of identity and subjectivity within the Greek Orthodox Christian community in Syria, Lebanon, and the diaspora.