Steven Serels is an economic and environmental historian whose research focuses on the causes and consequences of structural poverty in the Southern Red Sea Region (SRSR). This volatile region is comprised of modern day Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. With the sole exception of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the United Nations considers these countries as having a ‘low’ level of Human Development. Despite current conditions, this region has not always been poor. Through the eighteenth century, communities in the SRSR were relatively rich because they played key roles in the robust trade between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean basins. Now many in this region are unable to lawfully secure for themselves the necessities of life. Serels’s current project examines the negative consequences of the regional adoption of modern currencies, i.e. government issued fiat currencies whose value is determined by international currency exchange markets and whose circulation is supported by central banks with sweeping powers. Development theory often posits that the development of a modern currency system is the first necessary step towards meaningful market-based poverty alleviation. However, Dr. Serels's research demonstrates that the dismantling of the traditional regional currency system and the integration of the SRSR into the modern international monetary system increased economic instability and decreased the ability of local communities to cope with economic downturns. This project is currently supported by a Postdoctoral Researchers International Mobility Experience (PRIME) grant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD). It builds off of Dr. Serels's previous scholarship on the regional history of famine, slavery, trade, land use and ownership, pastoralism, textile manufacture, and environmental disasters.
Serels is a Research Officer at the Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Regionalstudien (ZIRS) at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. He received his PhD and MA in history from McGill University and his BFA in studio art from the Cooper Union. From September 2014 to August 2017, he was an Associate Research Fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. Before that he held postdoctoral positions at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (2012-14) and the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (2013-14), both at Harvard University. Dr. Serels has received numerous fellowships, awards and scholarships, including ones from the DAAD (2018-19), the Gerta Henkel Foundation (2016-18), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2015-16), the Volkswagen Stiftung (2014-15), the Social Studies and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2010-11 and 2012-14) and the Indian Ocean World Center (2007-10). He is the author of Starvation and the State: Famine, Slavery and Power in Sudan 1885-1956 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and The Impoverishment of the African Red Sea Littoral, 1640-1945 (Palgrave MacMillan, 2018).
Organizer(s): Center for Middle Eastern Studies