Date of Degree

6-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

History

Advisor

Beth Baron

Committee Members

Simon Davis

Clifford Rosenberg

Elizabeth Thompson

Leila Hudson

Subject Categories

Arabic Studies | European History | Food Studies | Islamic World and Near East History | Near and Middle Eastern Studies | Near Eastern Languages and Societies | Political History | Social History | Women's Studies

Keywords

Middle East, France, food, colonialism, agriculture, war

Abstract

This dissertation examines Syria during the French Mandate using food as a primary unit of analysis. The exploration of food pushes this project beyond the boundaries of political and diplomatic histories of Syria during the French Mandate, bringing forward the hidden voices of the nonelite. Nonelites are often not visible in archives, but their absence in most written sources permits us to ascertain their experiences in studying the materials that comprised their everyday lives. The sources consulted for this work include memoirs, print media, and state archives, to name a few.

Each chapter of this dissertation follows a different link in the food chain, demonstrating the rapid changes taking place locally and globally juxtaposed with elements that resisted transformation. Food makes an excellent subject of focus for social history because of its centrality to daily life. Most Syrians were engaged in the field of agriculture as a source of income, and the economy was dependent on the crops produced by farm laborers. Those who were not directly involved in food production procured food in the market or prepared food in the home. The few Syrians who neither farmed, shopped, nor cooked food of course consumed food, whether it was a simple meal of burghul and onions fried in samn eaten during a break in the fields or a fancy French meal served at an urban restaurant as part of an emerging dining out culture.

World War I and the accompanying famine in the Levant wrought havoc on the ecology, infrastructure, and bodies of Syria. All the pieces that make up the food system, including roads, crops, and the economy had to be rebuilt. Mandate leaders sought to implement policy imported from the metropole and elsewhere in the French Empire, rarely accounting for indigenous knowledge or experience. From the moment French forces entered the country, the struggle to return Syria to sovereign rule began, gaining momentum as French strategy in agriculture, trade, and security proved to do more harm than good.

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