Failed Construction and Thermal Dynamics of the Levantine Coast


From the 1840s, a new attraction for the sea developed in the Levant, and since then it has continued to heat up. Whereas prior to this turn most of the region’s population was concentrated in the interior, increasing numbers gravitated towards the coast, as confirmed by a demographic comparison of the coast and the interior in Lebanon, Israel /Palestine and Egypt. Previously, even many coastal settlements turned their backs on the sea, as their inhabitants expressed fear – metaphysical and geopolitical – of maritime incursions, long before rising sea levels, salinization of aquifers and the collapse of fisheries. resulting from climate change. These coastal communities behaved like mountain settlements both in terms of architecture and culture. After the turn, it was the mountain towns that began to behave like beach towns, building boardwalks and pools, and reconsidering riverbanks and canals as “beaches” or “coasts.” Before the turn, coastal towns and the seascapes near them were subject to curses, which doomed an opponent to “drink the sea of ​​Gaza” (drown) or “go to Jaffa” (to hell) . Subsequently, larger populations gentrified what became prime beachfront real estate.

The physical world where the explosion of fossil fuel use and global warming occurred after World War II was constructed in the second half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. Much of it was newly built along the world’s coastline, which depended on a new attitude towards the sea and its emergence as a key heat transfer fluid. This conference, based on a new book project, Heat: a storyprobes the connection between this material and notional “coastal turn” and its thermal aspects which include urban heat islands, the transformation of the Middle East into a literal and geopolitical hotspot, and global overheating.

On Barak is a social and cultural historian of science and technology in non-Western contexts. He is an associate professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University and the author of several books, including Powering Empire: How Coal Created the Middle East and Triggered Global Carbonization (University of California Press, 2020), and On Time: technology and temporality in modern Egypt (University of California Press, 2013). Before joining Tel Aviv University, Barak was a member of the Princeton Society of Fellows and a lecturer in the history department at Princeton University. In 2009, he obtained a joint doctorate. in History and Middle Eastern Studies from New York University.


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