Alan Mikhail appointed Chace Family Professor of History

Alan Mikhail
Alan Mikhail

Alan Mikhail, an authority on Middle Eastern history, global history, and histories of empire and the environment, has been appointed the Chace Family Professor of History, effective April 17.

He is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and is chair of the Department of History.

In his four books, Mikhail unearths narratives of environmental change and of imperial power previously untold about the Middle East. “Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History” (2011), which was awarded Yale’s Ranis and Heyman Prizes, as well as the Roger Owen Book Award of the Middle East Studies Association, is the first historical work to show how control of natural resources shaped the Ottoman Empire’s role in Egypt. In “The Animal in Ottoman Egypt” (2014), also a winner of the Ranis Prize, Mikhail revealed how changing relationships between animals and humans were central to the transformation of Egypt from an early modern society to a 19th-century centralizing state. “Under Osman’s Tree: The Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Environmental History” (2017) broadens the scope of Mikhail’s earlier work. It offers a new interpretation of Middle Eastern history that shows how imperial activity shaped the environment and how Islam relates to the natural world. “Under Osman’s Tree” was awarded the M. Fuat Köprülü Book Prize of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association and named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.

His most recent book, “God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World” (2020) has been lauded as an intervention in the telling of global history. Through the biography of Sultan Selim I, it reveals the instrumental, but often neglected global influence of the Ottoman Empire. The book was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction; named an Editors’ Choice selection by the New York Times Book Review; named a Book of the Year by the Times Literary Supplement, Publishers Weekly, History Today, and Glamour; and received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal.

Mikhail’s articles have won prizes from the American Society for Environmental History, Agricultural History Society, and Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association. He has also written for wider audiences in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Literary Hub, and Time.

In 2018, Mikhail received the Anneliese Maier Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; this award recognizes lifetime achievement by scholars in the humanities and social science and testifies to the global impact of his work. His books have been translated into multiple languages — including Romanian, Turkish, Arabic, German, Italian, Chinese, Korean, and Dutch. As an editorial board member of various journals and through book series in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and environmental history, he plays a key role in setting the global agenda for these fields.

Mikhail is now at work on a new project that delves into another unexplored facet of transnational history: an exploration of the intertwining histories of Dutch imperialism and Islam. In undertaking this project, Mikhail participated in the FAS’s Teaching Relief for Learning program, spending a semester engaged in in-depth study of Dutch history and the Dutch language.

The current chair of the Department of History, he previously served as the director of undergraduate studies, helping to reshape the undergraduate major in history with the introduction of a new four-semester sequence of team-taught courses in global history. In addition, Mikhail has served on key university committees, including The Whitney Humanities Center Executive Committee, the Humanities Tenure and Appointments Committee, and the MacMillan Center Executive Committee.

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