Dr Michele Sollai and Dr Joel Alfred Veldkamp received the prize on 16 September 2022
Dr Michele Sollai's thesis, titled “The Thin Green Line: Farmers, Experts, and the Practice of Agrarian Development in Ethiopia (1930s-1950s)”, is an exploration into the vast, complex and still largely uncharted history of agrarian development in Ethiopia. It follows the historical trajectories of the farmers and experts that shaped the practice of development during the Italian colonial occupation, the Second World War and in the 1950s. While considering the rationale and aims of the various development blueprints advanced by the fascist regime, the Ethiopian government, and international agencies from the 1930s to the 1950s, the dissertation focuses on how development ideas and projects were understood, lived, and transformed by local actors “on the ground”. By doing so, the dissertation reveals the multiple connections and continuities that characterized the evolution of agrarian development in Ethiopia during this timeframe. Albeit thin, and often concealed in plain sight, a “green line” of continuity run beneath and through the major political shifts, economic and social changes characterizing the history of Ethiopia from the 1930s to the 1950s.
The thesis also recently received the Gilbert C. Fite Dissertation Award of the Agricultural History Society and an articled drawn from this work, titled “How to Feed an Empire? Agrarian Science, Indigenous Farming, and Wheat Autarky in Italian- Occupied Ethiopia, 1937–1941” was recently published in Agricultural History.
Dr Joel Alfred Veldkamp's thesis, titled “The Politics of Aleppo’s Christians and the Formation of the Syrian Nation-State, 1920-1936.”, examines the political discourses and practices of the various Christian communities in Aleppo during the first part of the French occupation of Syria. In particular, it explores the often-tortured relationship between Aleppo’s Christians and the Syrian Arab nationalist movement, which was working to unite the territories occupied by France into a novel nation-state defined by Arab national identity. Using sources in Arabic, Armenian, and French, the thesis concludes that the political choices of Aleppine Christians in this period were mediated by their religious identity, and that despite the prominence of several Aleppine Christians in the nationalist movement, Aleppo’s Christians a whole formed a locus of resistance to that movement which had no equivalent in the other cities of Syria. This thesis adds to the understanding of the origins of the Middle East’s current nation-state system, and especially, the role that religious identity and religious solidarity played in its creation.