Lawson, Owain

Field: Middle East; Advisor: Elshakry; Year: 2014

Owain Lawson is a PhD candidate in history at Columbia University researching environment, technology, and development in the twentieth-century Middle East. His dissertation examines the history of the development of the Litani river in Lebanon between 1920 and 1978. By putting the Litani project at the center of its narrative, the dissertation identifies continuities and ruptures between colonial and postcolonial development, examines how water infrastructure creates and forecloses possibilities for democratic politics, and traces transformations in the culture of engineering in the Global South.

Owain’s research has been supported by a Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), a Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC, Canada), a Doctoral Fellowship from Orient-Institut Beirut (Max Weber Stiftung), and a Research Fellowship from the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life at Columbia University.

His paper, “Constructing a Green Museum: French Environmental Imaginaries of Syria and Lebanon” won the 2015 Hakluyt Society Essay Prize. He has discussed his research’s relevance to contemporary electricity and water politics in Lebanon here and reflected on the urgency that researchers and instructors working on and in the Middle East address climate change here.



MPhil, MA History, Columbia University
MA Middle East Studies, The American University in Cairo
BA English, Concordia University (Montréal)


Owain is senior editor of Arab Studies Journal. He serves on the board of the Lebanese Studies Association as website editor. He teaches through Columbia and Cornell University’s respective Prison Education Programs, leading college-level courses for incarcerated men and women.