Transformations of urban and rural societies

Transformations in urban and rural societies

The projects of the research cluster “Processes of Transformation in Urban and Rural Societies” share a focus on the effects of change, transformation and long-term development in both urban and rural societies of the Middle East since 1500. They aim to shed light on the constitutive fabric of urban-rural relations in the political, administrative, economic and cultural life of Middle Eastern societies. With a particular emphasis on historical perspectives and on often overlooked and marginalized groups and settings such as the Bedouin or rural areas in general, we counter the widespread neglect, in scholarly research as well as in political analysis, of a wide range of non-urban and non-elite actors.

“Processes of Transformation” puts those interactions and correlations centre stage that link specific urban and rural societies of Bilād al-Shām with social, political, and economic trends and stimuli on local, regional, imperial, and global levels. Special attention is paid to the impact of environmental factors. We posit that the intensification of such links during the time under investigation is of particular interest for understanding the region’s past and present.


The focus of Rural Societies in an Age of Urbanization, 1750 to 1850 is on the dynamics of rural-urban relations in the Middle East during a period characterized by profound transformations on various levels, from the local to the global.

Women on the Streets!" is a two-staged research project that aims at establishing "a genealogy of food riots in the Middle East between the 18th and 20th centuries”. It scrutinises the phenomenon of food riots with a particular focus on female actors under the assumption that food riots are a “repertoire of contention” (C.Tilly) in which people make conscious tactical choices aimed at negotiating inherently political claims in public spaces. The project’s first phase focuses on urban and rural food riots throughout Bilād al-Shām during the early twentieth century and particularly World War I.


In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in rural societies amongst historians of the Middle East alongside that seen in other disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology, development studies, political studies, art history, literature etc. In many regions of the Middle East, history continues to be written from an urban perspective, with the historiography of Lebanon standing out in many ways as an important exception. As recent events have made clear, there is a need to remedy this neglect of rural economies, politics, societies, culture and religion in scholarly analysis in order to better understand the issues of nation- and state-building in the region.

The discussion group Ruralities, Lebanon and Beyond adopts a cross-disciplinary approach that promises new insights into the workings of rural and urban societies as well as keys to understanding the historical trajectories of state formation in the eastern Mediterranean. Interested in diverse aspects of rural life from a long-term perspective, we discuss recent approaches to rural history and open a forum for debate of new research angles and projects. For more information…


In April 2016, the workshop “Cross-disciplinary approaches to the Hydraulic Landscapes of the Eastern Mediterranean, 1200-1900CE”, supported by the OIB, the University of Balamand and the Danish Institute of Damascus, brought together specialists of various disciplines and periods in order to debate new approaches to
integrating the rural worlds of the Eastern Mediterranean into our research agendas. A number of papers presented at the workshop are now being revised to be submitted in a special issue of the journal “Levant” which has been proposed for early 2018.