Fallow Fields: Famine and the Making of Lebanon
Pitts, Graham Auman
This dissertation narrates Lebanon’s environmental history through the lens of the country’s World War I famine. My analysis uses the catastrophe as a prism through which to reconstruct Lebanese agrarian life. Between 1887 and 1914, as many as 150,000 Lebanese migrated to the Americas. On the war’s eve, remittances from abroad formed the largest source of income for the Lebanese, followed by the export of silk. Wartime conditions made both sources of income all but impossible to obtain and the ensuing famine exposed the vulnerabilities of Lebanon’s reliance on global flows of humans and capital. One in three Lebanese perished during the war. Years of demographic instability became a crisis of excess mortality once the war denied the population access to its livelihood and the safety valve of migration.By taking the human relationship with the rest of nature as its unit of analysis, my study posits broad continuities between the late Ottoman period and the French Mandate era whereas most studies have seen World War I, and the subsequent imposition of French colonialism, as a decisive rupture. Lebanon’s silk economy—already languishing before the war—continued its trajectory of decline despite French plans to energize commercial agriculture. The latter stumbled amidst falling global demand and the degradation of the Lebanese landscape, a salient (an unremarked upon) legacy of the silk industry. Lebanon’s environmental history shows that human ecological relationships were much less apt to rupture than the discourses and governmental strategies that have been the primary object of recent scholarship on the history of Lebanon and the modern Middle East.
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