Through a microhistory of a small province in Upper Egypt, this book investigates the history of five world empires that assumed hegemony in Qina province over the last five centuries. Imagined Empires charts modes of subaltern rebellion against the destructive policies of colonial intruders and collaborating local elites in the south of Egypt. Abul-Magd vividly narrates stories of sabotage, banditry, flight, and massive uprisings of peasants and laborers, to challenge myths of imperial competence. The book depicts forms of subaltern discontent against imagined empires that failed in achieving their professed goals and brought about environmental crises to Qina province. As the book deconstructs myths about early modern and modern world hegemons, it reveals that imperial modernity and its market ecomy altered existing systems of landownership, irrigation, and trade - leading to such destructive occurrences as the plague and cholera epidemics. The book also deconstructs myths in Egyptian historiography, highlighting the problems of a Cairo-centered idea of the Egyptian nation-state. The book covers the Ottoman, French, Muhammad Ali's, and the British informal and formal empires. It alludes to the U.S. and its failed market ecomy in Upper Egypt, which partially resulted in Qina's participation in the 2011 revolution. Imagined Empires is a timely addition to Middle Eastern and world history.
Zeinab Abul-Magd is Assistant Professor of History at Oberlin College.