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Water and Dust: Phosphate Mining, Environmental Degradation, and Global Capitalism in Tunisia (1880s-2010s)

Watson Hall 517

All attendees must complete the Queen's SeQure App in advance of the event and must wear ASTM F2100 Level 2 medical-grade masks while indoors on campus.



Under French colonialism in the early 20th century, Tunisia was the world’s largest exporter of phosphate rock. Phosphates, a crucial ingredient in agricultural fertilizers, remain vital to Tunisia's economy today. Moving beyond approaches that contain Tunisia’s modern history within its national borders, I argue that the history of phosphate mining in Tunisia presents new ways for scholars to understand environmental degradation and global capitalism. In doing so, I advocate new approaches that merge environmental and social history. By exploring contestations around water and dust in Tunisia’s phosphate mines, I show how environmental degradation unfolded in a slow and uneven process, revealing previously unstudied connections across space and time. These connections shaped the character of capitalism in Tunisia. Global capitalism was not a homogeneous structure imposed from the top; rather, it developed out of the ways in which people in industrial sites lived in and related to the natural world. Together, this history illustrates how intensive colonial mining sustained the modern regime of heavy-input agriculture, as parched Tunisian landscapes nourished Europe's fields.

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6




Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.