I became fascinated with the modern Middle East in high school in Switzerland. The turmoil of the region seemed to my teenage self to be the perfect antidote to the tranquil atmosphere of my native country. Determined to get as much exposure to the contemporary Middle East as possible and a solid...
I became fascinated with the modern Middle East in high school in Switzerland. The turmoil of the region seemed to my teenage self to be the perfect antidote to the tranquil atmosphere of my native country. Determined to get as much exposure to the contemporary Middle East as possible and a solid education to boot, I enrolled in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I earned a BA in 1996. I then returned to Switzerland, where I received a DES in Political Science from Geneva University and in 1997 moved on to Columbia University where I earned my PhD (MEALAC) in early 2004.
My dissertation combined social history with the history of colonial science. The book Who Is Knowledgeable Is Strong: Science, Class, and the Formation of Modern Iranian Society, 1900–1950, published in 2009, tells two intertwined stories: how, in early twentieth-century Iran, an emerging middle class used modern scientific knowledge as its cultural and economic capital; and how, along with the state, it employed biomedical sciences to tackle presumably modern problems like the increasing stress of everyday life, people's defective willpower, and demographic stagnation.
Determined to spend more time in Iran than the occasional research trip, I moved to Tehran after defending my PhD, and stayed until summer 2005. I moonlighted as a journalist for Swiss newspapers; had a fascinating (and sleepless) experience helping organize, as a temporary employee of the International Organization of Migration, the out-of-country leg of the January 2005 Iraqi parliamentary elections in the Iranian province of Khuzestan; and as a post-doctoral fellow initiated a project on the rise of technopolitics under the Pahlavi monarchy.
From fall 2005, I spent three wonderful years as an assistant professor in the Archaeology and History Department of the American University of Beirut. While maintaining my interest in Iran, I started to work also on the Arab world. Finally, moving to Princeton in 2008, I began to write as a transnational and global historian who uses the Middle East—and lately also other parts of the world—to think about themes that I think are of interest to historians in general.
My second book, The Making of the Modern World: A Middle Eastern History, to be published in 2017, is an interpretation of the socio-spatial making of the modern Middle East and, by way of example, of the modern world. Why, how, and in which stages, it asks, did well-rooted Middle Eastern cities and regions mold a dynamic modern world economy and powerful modern states? How were cities and regions remolded in return? And what does this case tell us about the world as a whole? To study these questions, the book choses as its pivot the region of Bilād al-Shām (Greater Syria, present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine) from 1850 to 1950.