Chris Gratien

Jun 3, 2022

The Unsettled Plain

An Environmental History of the Late Ottoman Frontier

Stanford University Press 2022

In this episode, I talk to Chris Gratien, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia, about his new book, The Unsettled Plain: An Environmental History of the Late Ottoman Frontier (Stanford University Press, 2022). 

The Unsettled Plain studies agrarian life in the Ottoman Empire to understand the making of the modern world. Over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the environmental transformation of the Ottoman countryside became intertwined with migration and displacement. Muslim refugees, mountain nomads, families deported in the Armenian Genocide, and seasonal workers from all over the empire endured hardship, exile, and dispossession. Their settlement and survival defined new societies forged in the provincial spaces of the late Ottoman frontier. Through these movements, Chris Gratien reconstructs the remaking of Çukurova, a region at the historical juncture of Anatolia and Syria, and illuminates radical changes brought by the modern state, capitalism, war, and technology. Drawing on both Ottoman Turkish and Armenian sources, Gratien brings rural populations into the momentous events of the period: Ottoman reform, Mediterranean capitalism, the First World War, and Turkish nation-building. Through the ecological perspectives of everyday people in Çukurova, he charts how familiar facets of quotidian life like malaria, cotton cultivation, labor, and leisure attained modern manifestations. As the history of this pivotal region hidden on the geopolitical map reveals, the remarkable ecological transformation of late Ottoman society configured the trajectory of the contemporary societies of the Middle East.

The music for this episode is Jazz Mice by Stefan Kartenberg.

Deren Ertas is a PhD student in the joint program in History and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. You can reach her on Twitter @drnrts.

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