In Fall 2012 the History Department welcomed Assistant Professor Jennifer Derr. Her research explores the contemporary history of the modern Middle East. She is particularly interested in questions of political economy, the production of geography, and new forms of space during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She teaches courses in the history of the modern Middle East, Ottoman history, environmental history, world history, and post-colonial politics. Derr received her Ph.D. in History from Stanford University with a dissertation entitled Cultivating the State: Cash Crop Agriculture, Irrigation, and the Geography of Authority in Colonial Southern Egypt, 1868-1931.
Derr is currently working on a manuscript detailing the construction of the environment surrounding the Nile River in colonial Egypt and its relationship to the practice and experience of the colonial state. The manuscript critically considers the endeavors of the British colonial administration to engineer the Nile River, most notably with the construction of the 1902 Aswan dam and its significant interventions in Egyptian agriculture.
Derr’s research has been supported by the Fulbright-Hays Commission, the Social Science Research Council, the American Research Center in Egypt, the Mellon Foundation, and the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Derr received a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a minor in Middle Eastern history from Stanford University and an M.A. in Arab Studies with distinction from Georgetown University. She first began studying history after spending a semester studying in Cairo during college. The initial experience of living in the Middle East was transformative. Since receiving her bachelor's degree, she has spent nearly a decade living in the region; part of that time was devoted to teaching at the American University in Cairo.
Derr believes that the craft of producing and teaching Middle Eastern history is intimately bound up with the experience of living in the region, immersed in its history, politics, and culture. She encourages students to think about history as it has been lived and experienced, and to become aware of how it remains significant in the contemporary moment. She also encourages students to travel and encounter history firsthand. Coming to UCSC was exciting for Derr because of the caliber of the work that is being done within the history department and the university as a whole. She is pleased to be a part of our community of scholars and students.