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Sean Lawrence

Assistant Professor

Teaching Fields

  • Modern Europe

  • Modern Middle East

  • German Empire

  • Environmental History

  • Political Economy

  • Heritage Studies

  • Film History


  • Ph.D., Modern European History (University of California, Santa Cruz)

  • M.A. European History (University of California, Santa Cruz)
  • M.A. UNESCO World Heritage Studies (Brandenburg University of Technology)

  • B.S. Political Science (Santa Clara University)

Research Interests

Dr. Lawrence's work explores the relationship between European institutions and the political-ecologies of spaces formally dominated by the Ottoman Empire. Dr. Lawrence's research examines the spatial construction of modern states through environmental engineering. In particular, Dr. Lawrence examines two discrete but entwined phenomena of the late nineteenth century: the ecological legacies of Ottoman Tanzimat (Reform Era) and the nineteenth-century roots of "development" of non-western states through forms of financialized environmental engineering. 
Reformist Ottomans sought to develop the agricultural resources of the lands of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) to compensate for the Empire's loss of sovereignty in the Balkan provinces of southeastern Europe. The loss of the Balkans enabled and instigated many of the processes that allowed Anatolia to become the modern Turkish Republic. By recreating in Anatolia forms of agriculture that had made the Balkans valuable to the state, Anatolia's physical environment was opened to modifications that made the region legible and enticing to foreign investors. Eager to profit from the opportunities opened up by this form of environmental nostalgia, Germany's Deutsche Bank invested heavily in the Ottoman Empire and its successor states. A core tenet of Dr. Lawrence's work is that economic strategies typically associated with post-colonial "development theory" are rooted in techniques of European firms on the margins of colonial networks before World War One.

Dr. Lawrence works in German, Turkish, French, Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, and English. He is currently working on adapting his doctoral dissertation, titled, "'What do you suppose this rain is worth?': German colonialism, political ecology, and the founding of Modern Turkey," into a book manuscript. His second project, tentatively titled, "Vectors of Modernity: Sedentarization, zoonotic disease, and medical 'expertise' in the eastern Mediterranean 1898-1970," explores how Ottoman and European "experts'' began to conceive of zoonotic disease as a stable feature of natural landscapes. The project asks how matrices of space, labor, environment, and disease were reconfigured between Ottoman and Turkish Republican rule. As the physical borders of cultivated land extended closer to unsettled spaces farmers and pastoralists fell victim to unknown ailments at increasing rates. In this way, the ecological web created by Ottoman land policy introduced new maladies to the lived experience of Anatolian cultivators while also driving the production of medical knowledge to the peripheries of settled Anatolia.

Courses Offered

  • HIST 209: Twentieth Century Europe
  • HIST 220: The Holocaust
  • HIST 348: The International Middle East
  • HIST 422: Twentieth-Century Germany from Weimar to Bonn


“The Value of Rain: Deutsche Bank and the Konya Irrigation Project, 1903-1917,” (Forthcoming).

“Preface,” in Samir Mutawi, Time to Speak: Middle East Issues and Crisis (Yazori: 2014).