Search International Institute website.

Taxonomies, Minorities, and Boundaries: The League of Nations and the Interwar Middle East

A lecture by Sarah Shields, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Tuesday, November 09, 2010
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095


When I began my study of the 1930’s conflict between Turkey and France  over the province of Alexandretta, I set out to examine the League of Nations’ implementation of their ideology of “self-determination of peoples” in the interwar Middle East.  I had planned to study the League’s mediation among established collectives in the disputed provinces of Alexandretta and Mosul, and to document and analyze the claims of competing nationalist groups. I found, to my surprise, that the people of Alexandretta and Mosul did not exist in exclusive, self-contained identity groups vying for resources and recognition.  On the contrary, their affiliations were fluid and ambiguous, and issues largely unrelated to their “essential” identities took predominance in their politics and their worldviews.  Instead of the project I had planned--a study of international institutions’ mediation of nationalisms in the Middle East--my book became a study of the processes by which people in the contested Sanjak (province) of Alexandretta learned to claim an affiliation with exclusive, self-contained, and exclusionary collectives. My new project situates the 1938 resolution of the Alexandretta dispute as the last of four episodes (the King-Crane Commission, Greek-Turkish Population exchange, Mosul Question, Sanjak Question) in which outside powers mobilized imported European assumptions about the nature of multi-lingual societies and the role of national identity groups to resolve territorial conflicts.

Sarah Shields is the Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Associate Professor in the History Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  Her recent exploration of the Sanjak Question, Fezzes in the River: Identity Politics and European Diplomacy in the Middle East on the Eve of World War II will be available in February 2011.  She has received an ACLS/SSRC/NEH grant for 2010-2011, and is spending the year at the National Humanities Center trying to sort out questions of taxonomies, minorities, and boundaries in the interwar Middle East.


Part of James Gelvin's speaker series on the Historiography of the Middle East

Cost : Free and Open to the Public

(310) 825-1455
Search International Institute website.