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Local or Global? Late Ottoman Environmental Crises in Global Climatic Perspective

Thu, March 15, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, MR 8


Recurrent episodes of drought and other extreme weather conditions and the resulting impact on crops and pasture lands took an enormous toll on both human and animal populations across in the Ottoman Middle East during the nineteenth century. Despite the diversity of the ecological zones encompassed by this region, a geographical area extending from Asia Minor and Syria to Kurdistan and Iraq, extreme variations in temperature and precipitation occurred throughout the region with remarkable synchronicity and regularity.
To date, most historical research on the nineteenth century Middle East has failed to recognize the parallels between ecological crises within the region. Indeed, most studies have treated these recurrent environmental and agricultural disasters over the century as singular events that resulted from local conditions. However, these shared patterns not only suggest that there are larger climatic trends affecting the region as a whole, but they also suggest that a better understanding of these events requires a more comparative and global approach to climate. Based on Ottoman, British, and American archival documents, as well as existing climatic and dendrochronological studies on the nineteenth century Middle East, this paper explores the following questions: To what extent did the global climatic oscillations, particularly El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) contribute to local events? If there is a link between the global climatic patterns, what parallels and contrasts might be made between Middle Eastern weather anomalies and environmental patterns in other regions?