Cartographic constructions of the Middle East

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Middle East, Cartography, Geopolitics, Egypt, Arab world

Subject Categories

Geography | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Maps have an inherent power to help create the places they are presumed to describe and represent. The construction and representation of the Middle East, like any place, is inextricably linked to map use, both formally in international agreements and the drawing of borders, and informally as a framework for imagining, coding, and naturalizing space and place. Through a critical examination of the cartographic use and treatment of the Middle East in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Arab World, my dissertation focuses on how the geographical form of the Middle East, and the vocabulary that is used to refer to it, was created, adopted, and at times contested. First, I analyzed World War I archival maps that were pivotal in parceling the Ottoman Empire and creating the state system that today comprises and greatly defines the Middle East. Once this new world order was outlined in European halls and palaces, another cartographic process was also necessary in order to make these divisions observable and valid. Mass produced maps played an essential role (though there were of course other processes occurring too) in representing and thus naturalizing the Middle East as a real place with specific social and cultural characteristics.

In order to provide a comparison to the dominant Western conceptions of the Middle East, and to better understand how the world order created after World War I is understood from within the region, I examined a wide variety of maps and atlases produced within the Arab World. I conclude that the construction of the Middle East is deeply embedded in imperialist, Orientalist, and traditional geopolitical discourses, and though the region has been naturalized in the West, it has little meaning and recognition for its own inhabitants within the Arab World.


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