At the turn of the twentieth century, Alexandria, Egypt, was a bustling transimperial port city, under nominal Ottoman and unofficial British imperial rule. Thousands of European subjects lived, worked, and died there. And when they died, the machinery of empire had to negotiate for space, resources, and control with the nascent national state. Imperial Bodies shows how the mechanisms of death became a tool for exerting both imperial and national governance.
Shana Minkin investigates how French and British power asserted itself in Egypt through local consular claims of belonging manifested within the mundane caring for dead bodies. European communities corralled imperial bodies through the bureaucracies and rituals of death—from hospitals, funerals, and cemeteries to autopsies and death registrations. As they did so, imperial consulates pushed against the workings of both the Egyptian state and each other, expanding their governments' material and performative power. Ultimately, this book reveals how European imperial powers did not so much claim Alexandria as their own, as they maneuvered, manipulated, and cajoled their empires into Egypt.
About the author
Shana Minkin is Associate Professor of International and Global Studies at Sewanee: The University of the South.
"Through her in-depth research on death as a historical actor, Shana Minkin reveals new dimensions of the interactions among empires, foreign forces, and the local Egyptian national governance in their struggle over resources, space, and land. Thus, Minkin offers the reader no less than an entirely new reading of the history of colonial Alexandria under British rule, and the reactions of its imperial subjects. Imperial Bodies is an outstanding accomplishment, innovative and insightful."
—Israel Gershoni, Tel Aviv University
"Shana Minkin's book is empirically rich, theoretically sophisticated, and lucidly written. This social history of death in Alexandria offers a unique perspective on the practices that defined the European imperial project."
—Thomas Kselman, University of Notre Dame
"Shana Minkin's work on imperial death studies greatly enriches a Middle East field too long concerned with only big actors and forces of colonialism. Those who found final rest far from home deeply troubled consular agents whose mandate came to include communities of the deceased in Egypt and elsewhere. Imperial Bodies represents local and global history at its very best."
—Julia Clancy-Smith, University of Arizona
"Imperial Bodies is most useful for students of empire, particularly those who work transnationally....[Minkin's] construction and use of an alternative archive—the bodies of imperial subjects—is inventive and instructive."
—Christopher S. Rose, H-Empire
"From six feet under the surface... Minkin persuasively revisits the history of Alexandria, Egypt, and empire... Even if Minkin follows individuals through sickness, memorialization, and burial, hers is not a morbid or gloomy account. The author compellingly reframes death as an interimperial and local affair, while also disinterring the underground connection of both imperial and Egyptian governance to matters of dying and death."
—Lucia Carminati, International Journal of Middle East Studies
"Minkin uses consular and other records to reveal a side of Alexandria that has long been buried (pun intended) in an ahistorical attention to cosmopolitanism, colonialism, and nationalism that was more often an expression of desire of particular classes or constituencies than grounded historical realties. There is perhaps nothing more material and grounded than a corpse, and the failure to explore the stories of the actual dead is an odd oversight for a discipline that depends all too morbidly on death! Thus, Minkin can be considered among the groundbreakers in the historiography of modern life."
—Wilson Chacko Jacob, Journal of British Studies
"The tight conceptual focus on end-of-life and the book's creative use of sources (mostly archival sources but also literary works and physical cemeteries) contribute to making Minkin's work a success. ... Minkin's book will be welcomed by a wide audience."
—Hannah-Louise Clark, American Historical Review