Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia (Hardcover)
A revelatory new history of the colonization of the American West
**Longlisted for the 2023 Cundill History Prize**
The iconic deserts of the American southwest could not have been colonized and settled without the help of desert experts from the Middle East. For example: In 1856, a caravan of thirty-three camels arrived in Indianola, Texas, led by a Syrian cameleer the Americans called "Hi Jolly." This "camel corps," the US government hoped, could help the army secure the new southwest swath of the country just wrested from Mexico. Though the dream of the camel corps - and sadly, the camels - died, the idea of drawing on expertise, knowledge, and practices from the desert countries of the Middle East did not.
As Natalie Koch demonstrates in this evocative, narrative history, the exchange of colonial technologies between the Arabian Peninsula and United States over the past two centuries - from date palm farming and desert agriculture to the utopian sci-fi dreams of Biosphere 2 and Frank Herbert's Dune - bound the two regions together, solidifying the colonization of the US West and, eventually, the reach of American power into the Middle East. Koch teaches us to see deserts anew, not as mythic sites of romance or empty wastelands but as an "arid empire," a crucial political space where imperial dreams coalesce.
About the Author
Natalie Koch is a Professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at Syracuse University. She is a political geographer specializing in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula region, where she has worked since 2012.
"Arid Empire explores the dual relationship between colonization of the U.S. Southwest and diplomatic relations in the Middle East"
—Hunter Bassler, KPNX Channel 12
"With lucid prose, a big narrative sweep and an impressive command of the facts, Natalie Koch exposes the connections -- both historic and modern -- between two dry spots on the globe with vastly different human cultures that forged strong economic and military ties. The 'double exposure' between Arizona and Arabia is a vital contribution to geographic scholarship, as well as a missing piece of the puzzle for residents of both America's backyard Sahara and the Arabian Peninsula's version of the Mojave."
—Tom Zoellner, author of Rim to River
"I've waited for a book like this for a long time. Arizona's place in our collective imagination has been as a water-starved, overheated, dangerous crossing point for Latin American migrants. But it is these things and more. From the experimental agricultural programs to the refugee settlement communities and, yes, the camels, it has also been a site for the projection of imperial power in the Middle East, North Africa, and the rest of the world. Now that Natalie Koch has helped us see it so clearly, we won't ever be able to unsee it."
—Geraldo Cadava, author of The Hispanic Republican and Standing on Common Ground
"Arid Empire is a surprising history book about the centuries-old cyclical relationship between two deserts half a world away from each other - and their continued mutual influence."
—Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Reviews
"Koch successfully capitalizes on a series of carefully documented case studies to unpack the United States' often elusive and indirect pseudocolonial ambitions. In doing so, she reveals how, in the name of scientific progress and technological advancement, US policymakers and private companies - with close ties to institutions of higher education - gained access to desert resources and profited from them, all while claiming to reject old-world colonial attitudes. The outcomes were nonetheless similar."
—Pamela Karimi, Science
"Like the sunglasses in the classic sci-fi film They Live, Arid Empire gives us the lenses we need to detect and critique 20th century ideologies at work in the 21st."
—Zachary Sugg, Water Alternatives
"At once a fascinating history of US and Arab attempts to make the desert productive in human terms and a comprehensive discussion of what colonizing the desert means."
—Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch