Barbara Jelavich Book Prize

2011 Citation Recipient

Sean McMeekin

TheĀ Barbara Jelavich Book Prize, established in 1995 and sponsored by the Jelavich estate, is awarded annually for a distinguished monograph published on any aspect of Southeast European or Habsburg Studies since 1600, or nineteenth and twentieth- century Ottoman or Russian diplomatic history in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Sean McMeekin
Title: The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

The work is a fast-paced, dramatic account of German efforts to undermine the British Empire during World War I. With its ambition to build a railroad from Berlin to Baghdad, imperial Germany had already established itself as a significant player in the Near East in the years before 1914. Once the war broke out, Germans sought to foment internal revolt among Muslims living under British, French and Russian rule. Germany heartily endorsed the Ottoman declaration of jihad against the Allied Powers, and continued throughout the war to build on its prewar economic and military influence in the region. McMeekin manages to weave together a narrative that includes historical figures high and low. The cast of characters includes Great Power statesmen and diplomats, military strategists, orientalist scholars, Zionist and Arab leaders, and a collection of other colorful schemers seeking profit in the region. He has written a beautifully crafted book, based on extensive research in multiple languages and archives in several countries. The author is an intrepid researcher. The committee commends McMeekin for his gifts as a storyteller; with an appreciation for the absurd, he tells a serious and sweeping tale of Great Power intrigue. In so doing, he breathes new life into what historical actors referred to as the Eastern Question. McMeekin succeeds in putting the Ottoman Empire and the East again at the center of the history of the period. The book revisits big questions and recasts the way we look at a crucial period in European and Near Eastern history. It is an excellent example of international history, and does the Jelavich-inspired tradition of Ottoman diplomatic history proud.