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Sowing the Seeds of Modernity on the Ottoman Frontier: Agricultural Investment and the Formation of Large Farms in Nineteenth-Century Transjordan


In the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire initiated a series of modernization reforms. In an effort to address the economic viability of the state, it turned its attentions to its frontiers, in an attempt to bring these regions back into the fold of the empire. In Transjordan, the state targeted Bedouin subjects; as part of the Ottoman project of modernity, efforts were made to settle nomadic pastoralists and transform pastureland into agricultural spaces. The rural countryside was opened to capitalist investment in agriculture. However, agricultural intensification, and the establishment of large farms created a crisis of modernity for many Bedouin. The intensification of agriculture brought increased taxation, diminished control over production, indebtedness, and ultimately the appropriation of land. But some Bedouin used the built environment and natural landscape to confront the Ottoman project of modernity as it unfolded on the frontier.


Au neuvième siècle, l’Empire Ottoman a introduit une série de réformes modernes. Dans un effort pour assurer la viabilité de l’économie de l’état, elle a porté son attention sur ses frontières, en tentant de ramener ses régions sous l’influence de l’empire. En Transjordanie, l’état s’est intéressé aux Bédouins en les incluant à son projet de modernisation dans un effort de sédentarisation de ces pastoraux et par la transformation de leurs terres en espaces pour l’agriculture. Ainsi, ces campagnes furent ouvertes aux investissements capitalistes en agriculture. Il en résultat une intensification de l’agriculture et l’implantation de grandes fermes qui provoquèrent une crise de modernité chez beaucoup de Bédouins. L’intensification de l’agriculture apporta une augmentation des taxes, une diminution du contrôle sur la production, l’endettement, et ultimement, l’appropriation des terres. Cependant, des Bédouins vont utiliser l’environnement modifié et le paysage naturel pour confronter le projet d’expansion moderne de l’Empire Ottoman s’étendant alors aux frontières.


En el siglo diecinueve, el Imperio Otomano inició una serie de reformas de modernización. En su afán por mejorar la economía del estado, volcó su atención en las fronteras del imperio con intención de desplegar las medidas en estas regiones. En la Transjordania, el estado se puso como objetivo el problema beduino; una parte importante del proyecto otomano de modernidad consistió en convertir en sedentarios a los pastores nómadas y en transformar la tierra de pastos en un espacio aprovechable para la agricultura. Así, el campo se abrió a las inversiones capitalistas agrícolas. Sin embargo, para muchos beduinos, la intensificación agrícola y el establecimiento de grandes granjas supusieron una crisis de modernidad. La intensificación de la agricultura produjo un aumento de los impuestos, un menor control sobre la producción, un mayor endeudamiento, y a la postre, la apropiación de la tierra. Pero algunos beduinos utilizaron el entorno construido y el paisaje natural para oponerse al proyecto otomano de modernidad a medida que se desplegaba en la frontera.

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Archaeological survey for this study was supported by the 2001 Tall Hisban investigations of the Madaba Plains Project Consortium. This work would not be possible without the continued support and dialogues I have enjoyed over the years with Bethany Walker (Grand Valley State University) and Sten LaBianca (Andrews University), and the hard work of their team, especially David Chaudoir (University of Arkansas) who conducted an ethnographic study of Hisban in 2001, Lean Fakhouri (University of Jordan) and her team who conducted the architectural study of Beyt Nabulsi; and Adam Fenner (Stanford University) for additional historical data. I am also grateful and indebted to Uzi Baram, Robin Brown, and Amy Groleau for their comments and suggestions. This work has benefitted from all of their help, while all omissions and errors are the author’s alone.

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Correspondence to Lynda Carroll.

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Carroll, L. Sowing the Seeds of Modernity on the Ottoman Frontier: Agricultural Investment and the Formation of Large Farms in Nineteenth-Century Transjordan. Arch 4, 233–249 (2008).

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  • Ottoman Empire
  • Bedouin
  • Modernity
  • Agricultural Intensification