Arbella Bet-Shlimon (she)

Associate Professor
Williams Family Endowed Professor in History
Photo of Arbella Bet-Shlimon

Contact Information


Ph.D. Harvard University, 2012
M.A. University of Michigan, 2006

I am a historian of the modern Middle East. I am also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and an affiliate of the Jackson School's Middle East Center. My first book, City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk (Stanford University Press, 2019), explores how oil and urbanization made ethnicity into a political practice in Kirkuk, a multilingual city that was the original hub of Iraq's oil industry. I teach general introductory courses on the modern Middle East and upper-division courses on specialized topics such as historiography; urban history; and the politics, society, and economy of the Persian Gulf. My teaching has been recognized with several awards, including UW's Distinguished Teaching Award.

In my research, I reframe histories of the nation-state—particularly in Iraq and the Gulf region—by examining cities, borderlands, and resources. I seek to understand how people practice politics via emerging forms of identification and how those concepts develop in relation to empire, colonialism, state-making, and transformations in infrastructure and the built environment. I critically explore concepts like ethnicity and nation, as well as the phenomena of crisis, intercommunal violence, and mass atrocity. In City of Black Gold, I show how Kirkuk became segregated and polarized through British colonialism, urban development schemes, the expansion of the oil industry, and Baghdad's systematic attempts to integrate Kirkuk into an Arabized Iraq. I am currently working on a project on colonialism and anticolonialism across Iraq and Kuwait that asks how colonized people articulate their political aspirations in places where imperial relationships overlap and intertwine. In particular, I ask: how do such processes play out in a region central to the fossil-fuel industry that is severely affected by climate change, and one that is (or was) characterized by frequent migration?

My research has been funded by the Institute of Historical Research, University of London; the American Historical Association; and UW's Simpson Center for the Humanities. My work has appeared in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East; Journal of Urban HistoryArab Studies Journal; Journal of Contemporary Iraq & the Arab World; Jadaliyya; and Middle East Report. I am on the board of the Academic Research Institute in Iraq.

Information on my publications is available via Google Scholar and ORCID.


Distinguished Teaching Award, University of Washington, 2017
Best U.S. Dissertation on Medieval or Modern Iraq (biennial), The Academic Research Institute in Iraq, 2013


Courses Taught

Graduate Study Areas

Division: Africa & the Middle East

Modern Middle East: In this field, students will aim to develop general proficiency in the political, social, and economic history of the Middle East—currently conceived as the Arab World, Turkey, and Iran, and more broadly conceived as Southwest Asia and North Africa—from the 19th century to the present. This field will focus on the following topics: nation building, state formation, and associated political discourses; Western colonialism, neocolonialism, and neoimperialism in the Middle East and North Africa; the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire; the formation and influence of key ideologies such as Arab nationalism, Sunni and Shiite Islamisms, and Zionism; wars, diplomacy, and refugee crises; and coups and revolutions. Students are expected to demonstrate familiarity with historiographical trends in the study of the modern Middle East in addition to an understanding of historical events and themes.

Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)

Comparative Colonialisms in the Modern Middle East: In this field, students will examine the various forms that colonialism and imperialism have taken in the Middle East (Southwest Asia and North Africa) since the 19th century in comparative perspective. Topics to be covered include: the growth and decline of American, British, French, and Portuguese imperial enterprises in the Middle East; the League of Nations and the mandate system; British protectorates in the Persian Gulf region; empires centered in the Middle East region, such as the Ottoman Empire and Oman; settlements and expulsions; and the development and decline of monarchies.

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