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Associate Professor at the Department of Middle Eastern and African History, Tel Aviv University
Mikhail M. Bakhtin Professor of the History of Russia-Europe Relations, European University Institute, Florence
Over the past three decades, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and life scientists have proposed that we stop conceiving of humans as the only beings endowed with agency. From a mere backdrop to human activity, non-human animals and the material world have graduated to being the dark matter that makes up most of our world and holds the social universe together. Human life would be impossible without microbes or coal.
The Einstein Forum’s new series People, Things, and Animals explores these intellectual developments and proposes a dialogue between the humanities, social and natural sciences on the interaction between humans and non-humans.
The first event of the series brings together two foremost representatives of the new materialist history. On Barak’s recent book Powering Empire is a history of how coal shaped the Middle East, presaging the geopolitics of oil that threatens organized human life today. Alexander Etkind’s Nature’s Evil is a global cultural history of natural resources as seen from a Russian perspective. Together they will discuss the agency of coal and peat and explore the ways in which different energy sources yield different political institutions.
On Barak is associate professor at the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University and the author of Powering Empire: How Coal Made the Middle East and Sparked Global Carbonization (2020), On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (2013), and Names Without Faces: From Polemics to Flirtation in an Islamic Chat-Room (2006).
Alexander Etkind is the Mikhail M. Bakhtin Professor of History of Russia-Europe Relations at the European University Institute. His numerous books include Roads not Taken. An Intellectual Biography of William C. Bullitt (2017), Warped Mourning. Stories of the Undead in the Land of the Unburied (2013), Internal Colonization. Russia’s Imperial Experience (2011), and Eros of the Impossible: The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia (1996). Nature’s Evil, published in Russian in 2019, is forthcoming in English with Polity Press.