Professor Reynolds is an environmental and social-cultural historian of twentieth-century Egypt.
Her research investigates the intersection of politics and material objects from the mundane to the monumental: socks, shoes, streets, store floors, ancient temples, and dams. By detailing the historical experiences in which diverse people resident in Egypt shared objects and space, her work challenges the remarkably persistent view that development along Western lines—in styles of dress, urban infrastructure, the control of nature, or the spatial expression of class and ethnic difference—must be embraced or rejected to solve the social problems experienced in the global south.
In the past several years, her Mellon-sponsored training in environmental science (“New Directions in Heat Management”), current research on Egyptian-Soviet engineering and geology (Aswan High Dam book), and work through the Mellon Sawyer Seminar in the environmental humanities (“Grounding the Ecocritical”) have put her work at the intersection of the disciplines of history, literature, geology, and ecology.
Her first book, A City Consumed: Urban Commerce, the Cairo Fire, and the Politics of Decolonization in Egypt, was published by Stanford University Press in 2012 and won the Roger Owen Book Award in 2013 from the Middle East Studies Association. A City Consumed investigated how the nationalist movement targeted consumer goods and commercial spaces as part of its effort to release Egypt from “colonial captivity.” Offering a new social history of the 1952 Cairo Fire, the book attends closely to popular struggles over dress and patterns of consumption and contributes to recent revisions of the nature of “cosmopolitanism” in late colonial Egypt. She has also published separate articles on the history of salesclerks in Egyptian department stores in the first half of the twentieth century.
Her new research explores the early postcolonial work of building the Aswan High Dam, which reordered much of Egypt’s south. She has published articles on the remaking of the provincial city of Aswan and on the environmental impacts of the dam on Egyptian society, politics, and geological understandings of the nation. She is currently completing a full-length book project on the building of the High Dam.
In addition, she has collaborated since 2014 with a comparative literature scholar, Anne-Marie McManus, on the various ways that the Middle East and North Africa have been framed as political, environmental, and social “wastelands.” Their Mellon Sawyer Seminar concludes in summer 2021 with a symposium on “Following Absence.”
Professor Reynolds teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on modern Middle Eastern history, urban studies, gender history, and environmental history. She is accepting graduate students.