2019 Melville-Nelles-Hoffman Lecture in Environmental History: Arbella Bet-Shlimon

Oil gusher, Kirkuk District, 1932. Source: G. Eric and Edith Matson, Matson Photographic Collection, Library of Congress.

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Kirkuk, Iraq’s most multilingual city, was the focus of the 2019 Melville-Nelles-Hoffmann Lecture in Environmental History at York University. The lecture was held on Monday, March 18 at 3 p.m. in the Schulich Private Dining Room, Seymour Schulich Building, Keele Campus. This annual lecture is a signature event presented by the Department of History in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York University.

“City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk” explores the ways in which oil, urbanization and colonialism have shaped the identities of Kirkuk’s citizens, forming the foundation of an ethnic conflict in this diverse city.

Professor Arbella Bet-Shlimon delivered this exciting lecture, which is based on her forthcoming book, City of Black Gold (Stanford, 2019). Bet-Shlimon is an accomplished, emerging scholar of modern Middle-Eastern history from the University of Washington. She discussed a decades-long process of ethnic identity formation as it was disrupted by the emergence of the oil industry under colonial rule. Intercommunal violence and competing claims to the city’s history took hold within the context of a burgeoning oil sector and the contentious politics of British colonialism in the 20th century.

In her research and teaching, Bet-Shlimon focuses on the politics, society and economy of 20th-century Iraq and the broader Persian Gulf region, as well as Middle Eastern urban history. Her research has been funded by, among others, the American Historical Association, the UW Royalty Research Fund and the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. She has published articles in the Journal of Urban History and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Her pedagogy has been recognized with three teaching and mentorship awards. She is on the board of the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq. She recently won a Distinguished Teaching Award as a 2017 University of Washington Awards of Excellence recipient.

Audio from past lectures can be found at: history.laps.yorku.ca/melville-nelles-hoffmann-lecture-series/.

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