IOWC Research Associate: Steven Serels

Dr. Steven Serels is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. He is an economic and environmental historian whose research focuses on the causes and consequences of structural poverty in the Southern Red Sea Region (SRSR). This volatile region is comprised of modern day Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. With the sole exception of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the United Nations considers these countries as having a ‘low’ level of Human Development. Despite current conditions, this region has not always been poor. Through the eighteenth century, communities in the SRSR were relatively rich because they played key roles in the robust trade between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean basins. Now many in this region are unable to lawfully secure for themselves the necessities of life.

Dr. Serels’s current project examines the negative consequences of the regional adoption of modern currencies, i.e. government issued fiat currencies whose value is determined by international currency exchange markets and whose circulation is supported by central banks with sweeping powers. Development theory often posits that the development of a modern currency system is the first necessary step towards meaningful market-based poverty alleviation. However, Dr. Serels's research demonstrates that the dismantling of the traditional regional currency system and the integration of the SRSR into the modern international monetary system increased economic instability and decreased the ability of local communities to cope with economic downturns. This project is currently supported by a Research Scholarship from the Gerda Henkel Foundation. It builds off of Dr. Serels's previous scholarship on the regional history of famine, slavery, trade, land use and ownership, pastoralism, textile manufacture, and environmental disasters.

Dr. Serels received his PhD and MA in history from McGill University and his BFA in studio art from the Cooper Union. From September 2014 to August 2017, he was an Associate Research Fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin from 2014 to 2017. Before that he held postdoctoral positions at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (2012-14) and the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (2013-14), both at Harvard University. Dr. Serels has received numerous fellowships, awards and scholarships, including ones from the Gerta Henkel Foundation (2016-18), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2015-16), the Volkswagen Stitung (2014-15), the Social Studies and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2010-11 and 2012-14) and the Indian Ocean World Center (2007-10).



2013 Starvation and the State: Famine, Slavery and Power in Sudan, 1883-1956. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Articles, Chapters and Reviews

Forthcoming“A Worn Insecurity: Textiles, Industrialization and Colonial Rule in Eritrea during the Long Twentieth Century” in An Ocean of Cloth: Textile Trades, Consumer Cultures and the Textile Worlds of the Indian Ocean. Pedro Machado, Sarah Fee and Gwyn Campbell, eds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

2014.Spinners, Weavers, Merchants and Wearers: The Twentieth Century Decline of the Sudanese Textile Industry. The Road to Two Sudans. Saud T. Ali, Stephanie Beswick, Richard Lobban and Jay Spaulding, eds. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press. 160-176

2012"Indigenous Debt and the Spirit of Colonial Capitalism: Debt, Taxes and the Cash-Crop Economy in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1898-1956" in Debt and Slavery in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Worlds, edited by G. Campbell and A. Stanziani, London: Pickering and Chatto Publishers. 133-141.

2012"Famines of War: The Red Sea Grain Market and Famine in Eastern Sudan, 1889-1891." Special issue of Northeast African Studies 12.1: 73-94.

2007"Political Landscaping: Land Registration, the Definition of Ownership and the Evolution of Colonial Objectives in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1899-1924." African Economic History 35: 59-67.

Selected Conference Papers

2014. “State Power, Local Resistance and Foreign Financed Food Security Initiatives in the Southern Red Sea Region, 1941-1960” presented at the ‘Conference on Agriculture, Nutrition and Development’, Institute for Global European Studies, Basel, 29-30 August 2014

2014. “Starving for Someone Else’s Fight: The First World War and Food Insecurity in the African Red Sea World” presented at the workshop on ‘The Global Environmental History of World War I in Perspective’, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., 4-5 August 2014

2013. “The Negative Consequences of Twentieth Century Famine Prevention Policies on Drought Coping Strategies of Pastoralist Communities in Eastern Sudan, in Western Eritrea and along Africa’s Red Sea Littoral” presented at ‘Disasters Wet and Dry: Rivers, Floods, and Droughts in World History’, Renmin University of China, Beijing, 23-26 May 2013

2013. “Famine and the Transition from Slave Labor to Free Labor in Northern Nilotic Sudan, 1898-1930” presented at ‘Global History of Agrarian Labor Regimes, 1750-2000’, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 25-27 April 2013

2012"Agro-pastoral Adjustments: Bijā Communities in the International Grain Market, c. 1800-1929." Paper presented at the International MCRI Conference, "Crossroads between Empires and Peripheries – Knowledge Transfer, Product Exchange and Human Movement in the Indian Ocean World," Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium, 21-23 June 2012.

2011"Watering Slaves and Growing Grain: The Expansion of Slave Labour in Northern Sudan, 1896-1913." Paper presented at the International MCRI Conference, "Enslavement, Bondage and the Environment in the Indian Ocean World," IOWC, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 28-30 April.

2011"Food Insecurity and Economic Development in the Sudan, 1885-1925." Paper presented at the IOWC, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 31 March.

2010"Cotton Before the Condominium: Cotton Cultivation, the Sudanese Slave Trade and British Influence in the Sudan, 1884-1890." Paper presented at the Conference on Commercial Agriculture in Africa as an Alternative to the Atlantic Slave Trade, German Historical Institute, London, England, 23-25 December.

2010"Food Insecurity and British Territorial Expansion in the Sudan, 1884-1913." Paper presented at the Third Annual IOWC Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference on Africa, IOWC, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 26 April.

2009"Salt for Slaves: The Slave Trade at Rowayeh, the Sudan, 1880-1913." Paper presented at the International Conference, "Bridging Two Oceans: Slavery in Indian and Atlantic Worlds," Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull, Iziko Slave Lodge, Cape Town, South Africa, 19-22 November.

2009"Deserts of Interests: The Natural Landscape and British Imperial Interest in the Sudan, 1884-1900." Paper presented at the Kulturpsychologisches Kolloquium, Technische Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany, 8 June.

2009"Cattle Tickets and Animal Quarantine: The Movement of Cattle Along the Western Red Sea Coast and the Establishment of Colonial Sovereignty, 1898-1903." Paper presented at the AEGIS Conference, Leipzig, Germany, 4-7 June.

2009"X-rays and Heat Waves: The Journal of Tropical Medicine and the Quest for a ‘Prescription’ for a Healthy Tropical Wardrobe." Paper presented at the CSHM Conference, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, 29-31 May.

2009"Indigenous Debt and the Spirit of Colonial Capitalism: Debt and Dependence as a Colonial Economic Development Strategy in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1898-1924." Paper presented at the IOWC International Conference, "Debt and Slavery: The History of a Process of Enslavement," IOWC, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 7-9 May.

2009"Trade-Alliance-Betrayal: The Import/Export Trade at Suakin and the Creation of Colonial Economic Policy in the Sudan, 1890-1905." Paper presented at the Second Annual IOWC Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference on Africa, IOWC, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 27 April.

2009"The Great International Tropical Underwear Survey: Technologies of Personal Hygiene in the 'Tropics' and the Limits of Consensus amongst British 'Tropical Medicine' Specialists, 1895-1913." Paper presented at the Society for the Social History of Medicine (SSHM) Post-Graduate Conference, "Medicine and Helath Care: History and Context," University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland, 16-28 April.

2008"The Acclimatization of Experts in Tropical Laboratories: Andrew Balfour, the Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratory and the Contemporary Study of 'Medicine and the Colonies'." Paper presented at International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC) Conference, "Crossing Borders in the History of Technology," University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, 5-10 August.

2008"The Nutritional Content of Wage Labor: The Politics of Nutrition Science in Britain's East African Colonies, 1926-1939." Paper presented at 2008 Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS) Conference, "Reflecting on Africa's Riches: Resources, Conflict and Exploitation," University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, 1-4 May.

2008"Latourization of Africa: Malaria Control and the Limits of Actor-Network Theory." Paper presented at the First Annual IOWC Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference on Africa, IOWC, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 28 April.

Exhibitions Curated

2010"Prescriptions for Healthy Living in the British Tropics, 1897-1913." Exhibition held at the Osler Library, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 1 April–6 September.

2009"Debts/Drugs/Delinquency: Philanthropy and Prostitution in Montreal, 1918-1925." Exhibition held at the Rare Books and Special Collections Library, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 1 May-30 June.