Kristen Alff

Visiting Assistant Professor

Field & Specialties

Modern Middle East, Ottoman Empire
History of the Company, Gender, Business History, Global South, Capitalism, Economic Theory, Environment, Land and Labor


BA: English Literature, Boston University, 2000

BS: Pedagogy, Boston University School of Ed, 2001 

MA: Middle East Studies, AUC, 2009 

MA: History, Stanford University, 2014 

PhD: Modern Middle East History, Stanford University, 2019 


Kristen Alff is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History, specializing in the history of the Middle East and North Africa, Ottoman and Islamic Worlds, and Business and Political Economy of the Global South. 

Kristen is currently working on her first book, Capitalism around the Mediterranean: Levantine Companies and Landed Property, 1850-1925, which traces the business activies of joint-stock companies which led to the commodification of land in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Levant. Kristen Alff finds that the dire food shortages and Levantine companies' ability to make super-profits during World War I produced major social and economic transformations that were already underway in the region. She also suggests that these transformations and the actors involved in their realization contributed to the shape of capitalism around the Mediterranean basin. An article and book chapter have come out of this research. 

Kristen Alff's second book project takes theoretical inspiration from business history and geology to investigate the plentiful, yet unexplored, resource of bitumen in the Dead Sea, Syria, and the Sinai Peninsula. Dead Sea bitumen is not a glamourous commodity; yet inventors, craftsmen, and industrialists used it in making the first photograph, paint, and shoe leather. It was also mixed with sand to create asphalt used in paving the first roads in the Ottoman Empire -- a place famously lacking in railway transportation. 

Kristen has been awarded honors for her teaching at Stanford Univeristy, and has taught in a variety of university classrooms in Toyko and Egypt. Her first career was as a secondary school English teacher. She uses the lessons she learned as a high school teacher everyday in her classroom and in writing and presenting her own scholarship. 


“Capitalist Development in the Levant and Egypt, A (Re)appraisal,” Critical Political Economy of the Middle East – A Reader, (Stanford University Press, in press).

“Levantine Joint-Stock Companies, Trans-Mediterranean Partnerships and Nineteenth-Century Capitalist Development,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 60:1, (January 2018).

Current Research

Alff is currently working on an article titled "Rotten Wheat and Other War Spoils: How World War I Changed the Political Economy of the Levant." She has also conducted prelimiary research for her second book, The Forgotten Black Gold: A History of Bitumen in the Levant and the Making of the Modern Oil Industry. In it, Alff argues that bitumen (or natural asphalt) in the Levant – a valuable commodity in its own right – quite literally paved the road for companies’ other oil-extracting endeavors in the Gulf and in other regions of the Middle East. It was, therefore an important, yet completely overlooked, component in the making of the modern industrial Middle East. 

Awards & Honors

Geballe Dissertation Prize Fellowship, 2016

Weter Dissertation Completion Grant, 2018

Mellon Foundation Dissertation Fellowship,  2017-2018

Council of American Overseas Research Centers Research Fellowship, 2015

Graduate Research Opportunities Grant, 2015

Social Science Research Council, Mellon-IDRF (declined), 2015-2016

Palestine American Research Center Fellowship, 2014-2015

The History Project Research Grant, Harvard University, 2013



Courses Taught

HIME 2001: Middle East and North Africa, 500-1500

HIME 2002: Middle East and North Africa, 1500-Present

HIME 1501: Introductory Seminar in Middle East History (The Middle East and the World)

HIME 4511: Capstone in Middle East History (Capitalism and the Middle East)