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Wilson Chacko Jacob

Professor, History

Wilson Chacko Jacob


B.S.F.S. Georgetown University, M.A.A.S. Georgetown University, Ph.D. New York University


Dr. Jacob joined Concordia's Department of History in 2006. He completed his Ph.D. in 2005 in the Departments of History and Middle East and Islamic Studies at New York University. After finishing a joint B.S./M.A. program in Arab Studies with a concentration in history at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 1995, he spent two years travelling, teaching English, and studying in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, and Egypt. The research for his doctoral dissertation explored the intersections of gender, empire, and modernity in the Egyptian context. A revision of the award-winning dissertation resulted in his first book Working Out Egypt: Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial Modernity, 1870-1940 (Duke University Press; American University in Cairo Press, 2011).

At Concordia, with generous funding from FQRSC, SSHRC, EURIAS, and ARCE, Dr. Jacob has been engaged in a second multi-sited research project with two major components, focusing on the problem of sovereignty. The first traces the life and career of an itinerant Muslim preacher and descendant of the Prophet--Sayyid Fadl--across the Indian Ocean through India, Arabia, and the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century. This singular lens affords an incredible view onto the transformations in the nature of sovereignty engendered by the expanding governmental powers of empire-states, the British and Ottoman in this case. The study also examines the implications of such a worldly expansion of power for the (re)conceptualization of life. The second component explores the transformation and criminalization of the traditional urban strongman, al-futuwwa, during the expansion of a semi-colonial, semi-national state in Egypt during the first half of the twentieth century. The research also considers the postcolonial afterlives of these figures and their relations to sovereignty and life.

The research for the first component has been completed and the results were published in July 2019 as a monograph titled For God or Empire: Sayyid Fadl and the Indian Ocean World (Stanford University Press). 

Winner of the CHA's 2020 Wallace K Ferguson Prize
Duke UP & AUC Press, 2011

Research activities

Select research funding

Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute Publication Grant, Rs. 1 lakh, 2018-19.

American Research Center in Egypt Fellowship for “Gangsters, Law, and State in the Making of Modern Egypt, 1882-1952”, $22880, 2013-14.

Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Connection Grant for International Workshop Convened at the University of Cambridge, “Cultures and Politics of the Transregional: Sovereignty between Empires and States,” $26981, June 2013.

European Institutes for Advanced Study Fellowship, Center for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, $47000, 2012-13.

Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant for “Sovereignty in Times of Empire: Islam, Preachers, and Gangsters,” $90000, 2010-13. Ranked 1st out of 115 applications to the Interdisciplinary Committee.

FQRSC Nouveau Chercheur Grant for “Islam and the Politics of Presence: “Preachers” and “Gangsters” in the Face of Empire, 1850-1940,” $45000, 2007-2010.



For God or Empire: Sayyid Fadl and the Indian Ocean World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019).

Working Out Egypt: Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial Modernity, 1870-1940. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011; Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011.

Articles and Book Chapters

“Transnational History in a Hat: Egypt and Kemalism in the Interwar Years,” in Kemalism: Transnational Politics in the Post-OttomanWorld, eds.Nathalie Clayer, Fabio Giomi, and Emmanuel Szurek (IB Tauris, 2019), 143-77.

“Revolutionary Mankind: The Time of al-Futuwwa,” Cairo Papers 33, 1 (Spring 2010 [Fall 2014]): 32-52.

 “Conversion Trouble: Gender, Religion, and the Problem of Sovereignty in the Nineteenth Century,” Special Issue 25.3 of Gender and History (May2014): 287-303.   

“Of Angels and Men: Sayyid Fadl bin Alawi and Two Moments of Sovereignty,” Arab Studies Journal 20, 1 (Spring 2012): 40-73.

“Overcoming Simply Being: Straight Sex, Masculinity, and Physical Culture in Egypt,” Gender and History 22, 3 (November 2010): 1-19.

“Eventful Transformations: Al-Futuwwa between History and the Everyday,” Comparative Studies in Society and History (July 2007): 689-712.

Teaching activities

Courses Taught

Intro to Modern Middle East History
History of Modern Egypt
Empire, Gender, and Sexuality: The View from the Middle East
History of Violence
Indian Ocean World History 


Recent seminars have been offered on subjects ranging from trends in global history to sovereignty and the question of Palestine. My seminars tend to be organized around the operations of power--political, coercive, discursive, religious, and so on. The contexts for considering these operations of power tend to be the modern Middle East and more recently the Indian Ocean World. 

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