Nancy Reynolds

​Associate Professor of History, of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (Affiliate), and of Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies (Affiliate)
PhD, Stanford University
MA, Stanford University
BA, Harvard University
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    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.


    Selected Publications


    A City Consumed: Urban Commerce, the Cairo Fire, and the Politics of Decolonization in Egypt. Stanford University Press, 2012. (Winner of the 2013 Roger Owen Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association)


    “City of the High Dam: Aswan and the Promise of Postcolonialism in Egypt,” City & Society, vol. 29, no. 1 (April 2017): 213-235.

    “States of Law and Sexuality in the Middle East,” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 27, no. 2 (summer 2015): 182-193.

    “Beyond the Urban,” a contribution to the “Public Space Roundtable,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 46, no.1 (February 2014): 172-174. 

    “Building the Past: Rockscapes and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt,” in Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Alan Mikhail. Pp. 181-205 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

    "Entangled Communities: Interethnic Relationships among Urban Salesclerks and Domestic Workers in Egypt, 1927-1961,” The European Review of History/Revue européenne d’histoire, vol. 19, no. 1, 113-139.

    “Salesclerks, Sexual Danger, and National Identity in Egypt in the 1920s and 1940s,” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 23, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 63-88.

    “National Socks and the ‘Nylon Woman’: Materiality, Gender, and Nationalism in Textile Marketing in Semicolonial Egypt, 1930-1956,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 43, no. 1 (February 2011): 49-74

    “Sharikat al-Bayt al-Misri: Domesticating Commerce in Egypt, 1931-1956,” Arab Studies Journal, vol. 7.2/8.1 (Fall 1999/Spring 2000): 75-107.

    “Economics: Advertising and Marketing: Egypt,” entry for Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, Volume 4, Suad Joseph et al (eds.), Leiden: Brill, 2006, 118-120


    The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship, January to December 2012, For the project “The Politics of Environment, Culture, and National Development in the Building of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, 1956-1971”

    Bernadotte E. Schmitt Grant for Research in European, African, or Asian History, 2010, The American Historical Association

    Geballe Dissertation Prize Fellowship, Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford University.

    Social Science Research Council Dissertation Research Fellowship for the Social Sciences and Humanities.


    Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2016-18. For the project: “Grounding the Ecocritical: Materializing Wastelands and Living on in the Middle East”; with Dr. Anne-Marie McManus.

    Arts and Sciences Summer 2016 Collaborative Seed Grant, Washington University, 2016.
    For the project: “Wasteland Literacies”; with Dr. Anne-Marie McManus.

    Mellon New Directions Fellowship, 2014-2016; deferred to begin in 2017.
    For the project, “Heat: Recent Egyptian Histories.”

    Faculty Seminar Grant, Center for the Humanities, Washington University, 2014-2017.
    For “Wastelands,” co-convened with Dr. Anne-Marie McManus.

    Recent Courses

    Middle East in the Twentieth Century

    Colonial Cities and the Making of Modernity

    History of the Late Ottoman Middle East

    Palestine, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

    Graduate Core Seminar: Social and Cultural History of the Modern Middle East

    Beyond the Harem: Women, Gender, and Revolution in the Modern Middle East

    Egypt and the Arab Spring: Middle Eastern Revolution in Historical Perspective (Advanced Seminar)

    The Literature of History

    Law and Revolution in Modern Egypt: A Methods Seminar

    Between Sand and Sea: History, Environment, and Politics in the Arabian Peninsula

    Research Seminar for M.A. Students in Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies

    Shopping and Consumption: Historical Approaches

    Hold That Thought Podcast
    A City Consumed

    A City Consumed

    Though now remembered as an act of anti-colonial protest leading to the Egyptian military coup of 1952, the Cairo Fire that burned through downtown stores and businesses appeared to many at the time as an act of urban self-destruction and national suicide. The logic behind this latter view has now been largely lost. Offering a revised history, Nancy Reynolds looks to the decades leading up to the fire to show that the lines between foreign and native in city space and commercial merchandise were never so starkly drawn.