Michael Christopher Low


Office:657 Ross
527 Farm House Ln.
Ames IA


Michael Christopher Low’s primary research interests include the late Ottoman Empire, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean World, and Environmental History. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2015.

Low is the author of Imperial Mecca: Ottoman Arabia and the Indian Ocean Hajj (Columbia University Press, 2020). Drawing on Ottoman and British archival sources as well as published materials in Arabic and modern Turkish, Imperial Mecca analyzes how the Hijaz and the steamship-era pilgrimage to Mecca simultaneously became objects of Ottoman modernization, global public health, international law, and inter-imperial competition during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Low is also co-editor (with Lâle Can, Kent Schull, and Robert Zens) of The Subjects of Ottoman International Law (Indiana University Press, 2020).

Low’s articles have appeared in Comparative Studies in Society and History; Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East; Environment and History; the International Journal of Middle East Studies; and the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association. His articles have received awards from the American Society for Environmental History and the Comité International des Études Pré-Ottomanes et Ottomanes. He also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Global History and the Journal of Tourism History.

His research and language training have been supported by the American Institute for Yemeni Studies; Columbia University’s Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life; the David L. Boren National Security Education Program; the University of Glasgow’s William Lind Foundation; the Institute of Turkish Studies; Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities; Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED); and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Most recently, in 2020, Low was awarded the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) Dean’s Emerging Faculty Leaders Award. In 2020-2021, he was also a Senior Humanities Research Fellow for the Study of the Arab World at NYU Abu Dhabi. While in residence in the United Arab Emirates, he continued work on several new monograph and article projects exploring the entangled enviro-technical histories of desalination technology, water production, infrastructure, energy, and climate change in the Arabian Peninsula, the wider Middle East, and more globally.

At Iowa State, Low also serves as the Co-Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Minor (housed in the Department of World Languages and Cultures). He also serves as the Coordinator for Iowa State University’s Indian Ocean World partnership and PhD fellowship. From 2018 through 2025, Iowa State University joins McGill University’s Indian Ocean World Centre and an international team of more than twenty universities and centers across the globe. Our partnership project, “Appraising Risk, Past and Present: Interrogating Historical Data to Enhance Understanding of Environmental Crises in the Indian Ocean World,” has been awarded a 2.5 million-dollar (Canadian) grant by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Historians, anthropologists, and social and environmental scientists will examine the social, economic, and political impacts of natural disasters and environmental risk across the world most populous and unstable macro-region, stretching from East Africa, Arabia, and the Persian Gulf to India, Southeast Asia, and China. By examining past and present patterns of natural hazards from epidemic disease, monsoon failure, and drought to tsunamis, volcanic activity, and global climate change, this grant seeks to better understand how the societies of the Indian Ocean world have adapted to natural disasters and environmental risk across time.

Courses Taught
  • HIST 255: Introduction to World History, 1500-Present
  • HIST 331: Islamic World to 1800
  • HIST 362: Global Environmental History
  • HIST 435: The Modern Middle East
  • HIST 554C: Reading Seminar in Environmental History (Global)