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Under Osman's TreeThe Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Environmental History$
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Alan Mikhail

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226427171

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226427201.001.0001

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History from Below

History from Below

Chapter:
(p.34) 2 History from Below
Source:
Under Osman's Tree
Author(s):

Alan Mikhail

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226427201.003.0003

This chapter focuses on two aspects of irrigation in rural Ottoman Egypt—canal dredging and the changing shape of alluvial islands in the Nile and its tributaries. Canals had to be dredged regularly throughout Egypt to keep water flowing in the countryside, and likewise the vicissitudes of the Nile ensured that alluvial islands were continually getting larger and smaller, reforging their spatial form, and connecting and disconnecting from canal banks. Part and parcel of canal dredging was the establishment of legal precedent for the responsibility of maintaining properly functioning waterways and other irrigation works. The challenges posed by the constantly changing shape of alluvial islands contributed to notions about what constituted evidence for the continuous use and cultivation of property. Both dredging and the physical flux of alluvial islands thus altered the literal shape of Egypt’s landscape, changed political and social relationships between peasant groups and between peasants and the Ottoman state, affected rural labor practices, challenged the abilities of rural Islamic courts to adjudicate complex disputes, and reshaped economic interests.

Keywords:   canals, dredging, siltation, islands, community, agriculture, precedent, cultivation rights

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