Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia

Tue, April 4, 2023 at Hybrid: Zoom or College of Business, N100

Natalie KochDr. Natalie Koch, professor of Geography at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, will present "Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia" on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at 1:00 PM in Room N100 in the College of Business. A Zoom option is available. Click here to register.


In colonizing the arid lands of southwestern North America, Anglo-American settlers struggled to make sense of the region’s human and physical geography. Yet explorers, scientists, travel writers, and political leaders quickly learned to interpret these deserts with reference to foreign but nonetheless familiar deserts – reading them as a local version of “Old World” Middle Eastern desert. Empire-builders in early America took these deserts as a key source of inspiration in more than just imagery, though. They actually imported to the U.S. Southwest animals (e.g. camels), plants (e.g. date palms), and ideas about governing people and nature alike. Focusing on this long history of ties between Arizona and the Arabian Peninsula, this presentation outlines the key arguments of my new book, Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia (Verso 2023). I show how desert-to-desert material flows as well as environmental imaginaries of the “desert” have been enlisted by many different actors who are, directly and indirectly, involved in the building of U.S. state power domestically and later, in the Middle East. The “desert,” I show, is constantly reinvented by these actors, as they learn to use it in new and unexpected ways. And this is the story of empire itself.

Click here to learn more about the book: Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia



Natalie Koch is a Professor of Geography at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. As a political geographer, she focuses on empire, geopolitics, identity politics, and state power, primarily in the Arabian Peninsula. Building from her recent research on the role of arid lands expertise in U.S. empire-building domestically and overseas, her next project will focus on the wider history of U.S. science diplomacy in the Gulf region.


Event Sponsors:

  • Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences
  • Muslim Studies Program
  • Center for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies
  • Asian Studies Center


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