Chris Gratien (2022)

Chris Gratien

Associate Professor

Field & Specialties

Environmental History
Middle East
Ottoman Empire
Social History


Ph.D., History - Georgetown University, 2015

M.A., Arab Studies - Georgetown University, 2008

B.A., History - Le Moyne College, 2005


Environmental History

My dissertation work examined the environmental history of the late Ottoman Empire through the lens of the Çukurova region of modern Turkey, also known as Cilicia. Located at the modern-day border between Turkey and Syria, Çukurova was a sparsely populated littoral plain at the beginning of the 19th century. The lowlands served primarily as winter pasture for nomadic pastoralists, and the surrounding mountains of the Taurus and Amanus ranges in turn provided summer pasture and supported large village populations. The largest cities in the region, Adana and Tarsus, boasted urban populations in the tens of thousands, a small fraction of the predominantly pastoralist and agriculturalist inhabitants.

My first published monograph entitled The Unsettled Plain: An Environmental History of the Late Ottoman Frontier (Stanford University Press, 2022) explores the modern transformation of Çukurova. I argue that the historical experience of Çukurova was in many ways emblematic of how the modern state, capitalism, war, and science impacted rural society in the Ottoman Empire. I study how the local ecology of the region changed with the rise of commercial cotton cultivation, mass migration and displacement, and the introduction of new forms of technology and medicine. Malaria is the theme that runs throughout the five chapters spanning from the medieval period to the present, with a focus on the century between the 1850s and 1950s. A mosquito-borne illness, malaria had a long presence in the Cilicia region, but I argue that its modern manifestation was an artifact of rural dispossession.

Interview with Ottoman History Podcast about The Unsettled Plain

The Unsettled Plain is an environmental history of the late Ottoman countryside, but it is also offers a new narrative of the making of the modern Middle East. Cilicia was located near the geographical center of the late Ottoman Empire, and it was critical to Ottoman imperial project from the Tanzimat period onward, as well as the broader commercialization of the Levant. It was long home to communities of Turkish, Arabic, and Kurdish speaking Muslim populations, as well as a large non-Muslim minority of Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities. It is the only region of the Ottoman Empire where the often conflated Alevi and Alawite communities could be found. And with the migration of Muslim refugees of war and conquest in the Russia Caucasus and Crimea, the Balkans, and Crete, Cilicia grew even more ethnolinguistically diverse over the course of the late Ottoman period. Its history thus offers a window onto the making and unmaking of the cosmopolitan societies of the late Ottoman world.

The Unsettled Plain was awarded the Nikki Keddie Book Award by the Middle East Studies Association of North America in 2022.

In addition to this monograph, I have published a number of articles, book chapters, and reviews pertaining to the history of the Cilicia region as well as the subjects of environment, disease, and medicine in the late Ottoman Empire. See the following list.

Selected Articles and Book Chapters

“‘Toprakla Oynayan Mezarını Kazar’: Osmanlı’da Sıtma ve Medeniyet,” (translated by İsmail Yaşayanlar) in Bitmeyen Hikaye: Küresel Salgın Çağında Tarihe Yeniden Bakmak, ed. İsmail Yaşayanlar. Tarih Vakfı, 2022.

“Adana Kebabs and Antep Pistachios: Place, Displacement, and Cuisine of the Turkish South” with Samuel Dolbee in Making Levantine Cuisine, ed. Anny Gaul, Graham Pitts, and Vicky Valosik. University of Texas Press, 2021.

“The Rice Debates: Political Ecology in the Ottoman Parliament” in Seeds of Power: Explorations in Ottoman Environmental History, ed. Onur İnal and Yavuz Köse. White Horse Press, 2019.

“Malaria and the Legacy of WWI in the Ottoman Empire” in The Long End of the First World War: Ruptures, Continuities and Memories, ed. Katrin Bromber, Katharina Lange, Helke Liebau, and Anorthe Wetzel. University of Chicago Press/Campus Verlag, 2018.

"The Ottoman Quagmire: Malaria, Swamps, and Settlement in the Late Ottoman Mediterranean,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 49 No. 4 (2017).

"Pilavdan Dönen İmparatorluk: Meclis-i Mebusan’da Sıtma ve Çeltik Tartışmaları” translated by Burcu Kurt in Osmanlı'dan Cumhuriyet'e Salgın Hastalıklar, eds. Burcu Kurt and İsmail Yaşayanlar. Tarih Vakfı, 2017.

“The Sick Mandate of Europe: Local and Global Humanitarianism in French Cilicia, 1918-1922,” Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, Vol. 3 No. 1 (May 2016). 

Book Reviews and Essays

IDRF Book Exchange on Alex Nading, Mosquito Trails with Aman Luthra and Alejandro Cerón (April 2018).

Review of “Ottoman Rural Societies and Economies” ed. Elias Kolovos, Turcica Vol 49 (2018).

Review of “The Arid Lands: History, Power, Knowledge” by Diana K. Davis, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol 49 No 2 (May 2017) 341-342.

Review of “Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: the Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600” by Nükhet Varlık in Osmanlı Araştırmaları / The Journal of Ottoman Studies, No. 48 (2016) 482-487.

Review of “Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire” by Bedross Der Matossian in Arab Studies Journal, Vol. 24 No. 1 (Spring 2016) 300-304.

“Ecological Exchanges and Environmental History” in Explorations in History and Globalization, ed. by Catia Antunes and Karwan Fatah-Black, London: Routledge, 2016.

“Ottoman Environmental History: A New Area of Middle East Studies,” Arab Studies Journal, Vol. 20 No. 1 (Spring 2012), 246-254. 

Migration and Ottoman Diaspora

Since completing my doctoral work in 2015, I have developed a secondary research interest in the history of the Ottoman diaspora with an emphasis on the migration to and deportation from the United States during the interwar period.

Articles and Book Chapters

“Ottoman Migrants, American Deportation, and the Many Paths to Statelessness” in Stateless Histories, eds. Jennifer Dueck and Laura Robson., 2022.

“Narrating Sephardic Histories: A Reflection” with Sam Negri in Sephardic Trajectories: Archives, Objects, and the Ottoman Jewish Past in the United States, ed. Kerem Tınaz and Oscar Aguirre-Mandujano. University of Chicago Press/Koç University Press, 2021.

“The Second Exchange: Ottoman Greeks and the American Deportation State during the 1930s” with Emily Pope-Obeda, Journal of Migration History, Vol 6 (2020).

“Ottoman Migrants, U.S. Deportation Law, and Statelessness during the Interwar Era” with Emily K. Pope-Obeda, Mashriq & Mahjar, Vol. 5 No. 2 (2018).

This research on Ottoman diaspora has centered on an investigative podcast project entitled “Deporting Ottoman Americans.” Each episode examines the story of a deportation case from the US archives involving an Ottoman-born immigrant during the Great Depression and in doing so, elucidates larger themes pertaining to the subjects of race, gender, class, law, and the formation of post-Ottoman diaspora communities in the United States. Research for the series is complete, but production has been on hold since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. So far, 3 of 13 scheduled episodes have been released.

Episode 3 - Turkino

Public Humanities

Since 2011, I have been producer of Ottoman History Podcast, a collaborative internet radio program featuring interviews with students and scholars. I began working on the podcast with fellow graduate students at Georgetown University to create a new venue for publicly discussing topics of emerging interest concerning the Ottoman Empire, the modern Middle East, and the Islamic world. Since then, I have worked with dozens of team members to produce episodes roughly one a week, totaling more than 500 as of July 2021. I enjoy using the platform as a space of collaboration and to learn about new topics in my area of specialty as well as explore areas beyond my expertise. This playlist contains a complete catalog of my interviews, which total more than 200 to date.

In recent years, I have tried to move beyond the standard interview format to develop well-produced episodes that take full advantage of the podcast medium using sound production and composition techniques influenced by radio journalism. These episodes have extensively employed music and other sonic elements. A few recent examples are below.

The Making of the Islamic World

In Fall 2020, I collaborated with 20 colleagues to produce a 10-part podcast about the history of the Islamic world (600-1600) called "The Making of the Islamic World." It has been used widely as asynchronous material in university classes during the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here for more information about the development of the Ottoman History Podcast and our team.

Current Research

I am currently preparing a book manuscript entitled The Book and the Sword: A Microhistory of Empire in Late Ottoman Syria. This book is the “prequel” to my first book The Unsettled Plain. The narrative hinges on the partially-unsolved murder of an American missionary in 1862, a presumed assassination. This murder has been depicted as a relatively minor crisis in the historiography of American diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire. Using previously unexamined archival sources from the US and Turkey as well as an array of published sources, I show that in fact the American diplomatic pressure over this incident indirectly led to a large Ottoman military campaign against the nomadic populations of the region. In the process, I examine the transformation of “empire” during the mid-19th century, not focusing on one specific imperial system but rather the overlapping actions of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Great Britain, France, the Russian Empire, and the United States. The book attempts to further an uncommon approach to the global history of empire rooted in the method of my first book, which studied the political and environmental transformation of a region of the late Ottoman Mediterranean with a focus on the texture of daily life. Using detailed context of the local conditions in the region based on sources in Ottoman Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic not often consulted by historians of Western empires, the narrative continually returns to the ways in which empire was and is a work of fiction produced and reproduced through the archives.

Awards & Honors

2022 - Nikki Keddie Book Award, Middle East Studies Association

2016-17, 2019-20 - Academy Scholar, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies

2015-16 - Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University Program in Agrarian Studies

2014-15 - ACLS-Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship

2012-13 - SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellowship

2009 - ARIT Summer Advanced Turkish Fellowship, Boğaziçi University

2008-09 - Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) Full-Year Fellowship, University of Damascus, Syria

Courses Taught

by order of number of times taught

HIME 2002 – The Making of the Modern Middle East (lecture w/discussion section)
HIST 2152 – Climate History (lecture)
HIST 8001 - Master's Essay Writing (graduate seminar)
HIME 3501 – Migration, Displacement and Diaspora in the Middle East (history major workshop)
HIME 3559 - Environmental Histories of the Mediterranean
HIME 1501 – Water, Energy, and Politics in the Middle East (first-year seminar)
HIME 2001 – The Making of the Islamic World (lecture)
HIST 2150 – Global Environmental History (lecture)
HIST 4501 – Modern Environmental History (upper-level research seminar)
HIME 9021 – Oil & Capital in the Middle East (graduate tutorial)
HIME 9024 - Ottoman Society (graduate tutorial)
HIME 9026 – Minorities in the Middle East (graduate tutorial)