Despite its centrality for the lives and the livelihoods of people in the Middle East, water has seldom been examined in its own right as a contributing factor to its history. This new First Year Seminar will explore the many ways in which water has shaped the history of the region, and the effects it currently has on life in the Middle East.

Along the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts as well as the Red Sea and Arab/Persian Gulf, seafaring and fishing played important roles in the economy; in the Gulf, pearl-diving became an important local industry as well. Agricultural innovations allowed permanent settlement in areas with little rainfall. Rivers and seas were essential for transportation, connecting populations of far-flung parts of the Middle East with each other, facilitating commerce and pilgrimage. The availability of clean water has become an increasing problem as industrialization and consumerism soil beaches and sully the region’s drinking supplies. Water and conflict have been indivisible in the region, since water is one of the crucial and rare resources in the Middle East. Some have argued, for example, that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians can only be resolved by taking water resources into account; others have pointed to recent drought in Syria as a major factor contributing to the uprising that began in 2011. This course will focus in turn on the historical, cultural, and contemporary issues surrounding the presence and absence of water in the Middle East.