Northwestern Events Calendar


MENA Monday. Organic Compound: Zionism & Science in Mandate Palestine — A Talk by Fredrik Meiton

When: Monday, May 8, 2017
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM CT

Where: Kresge Hall, The Forum (Room 1-515), 1880 Campus Drive , Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free

Contact: Danny Postel  

Group: Middle East and North African Studies

Category: Lectures & Meetings


In 1906, the Palestinian-born educator David Yellin published an article on Hebrew education in which he identified Palestine as the ideal location to “train up a [new, Jewish] generation rich in scientific and general knowledge.” In saying this, Yellin was voicing an attitude that was prevalent among all Zionist statebuilders, from Theodor Herzl to Arthur Ruppin, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and many more. In fact, those Zionists who had the greatest impact on the actual creation of a Jewish community in Palestine were not just committed nationalists, but also committed high modernists, consciously striving to organize their new society according to rational scientific principles. Scientific achievement would also serve as justification of the Zionist project to the outside world. Indeed, although largely forgotten today, non-Jewish support for Zionism often homed in on the potential of a Jewish state to contribute to scientific knowledge and non-Western development. To the prominent British statesman Leo Amery, Zionism was a “great constructive experiment,” whose chief virtue was in making Palestine into “a kind of colonial laboratory” that could test “the latest developments in science and agriculture.”

This talk aims to recover the importance of science as a key figment of the Zionist imaginary, and as an active agent in the development of the Zionist project in the period of the mandate and early Israeli statehood. The talk focuses primarily on two entwined aspects of the relationship between science and Zionism: first, how cutting-edge science informed Zionist state-building efforts on the ground in Palestine; second, how members of the Zionist movement organized scientific research in Palestine so as to project an image of progress and modernity.

Fredrik Meiton is a post-doctoral Fellow in the Science in Human Culture Program at Northwestern and is affiliated with the Department of History. He is a historian of science and technology in the modern Middle East. His research focuses on the intersection of politics, science, and technology, especially in the context of colonial development. He is currently at work on a book manuscript based on his dissertation, with the working title “Electrical Palestine: Jewish and Arab Technopolitics under British Rule.” The book charts the construction of mandatory Palestine’s electric grid as it co-evolved with the increasingly divided politics and society of the area, in an effort to rethink both the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the interplay of power and technology more broadly.

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