• Taylor M. Moore

    Historian of the Modern Middle East

    magic + medicine + museums


    historian + writer


    Taylor M. Moore is a historian of the Modern Middle East, specializing in nineteenth- and early twentieth- century Egypt. She is currently a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In August 2021, she will join the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies as an Academy Scholar.


    Taylor's broader research interests lie at the intersections of critical race studies, gender and sexuality studies, decolonial materiality, and histories of science, technology, medicine, and the occult in the non-West. Her work is invested in illuminating the occult(ed) networks, economies, and actors whose bodies and labor are generally rendered invisible in Eurocentric histories of global science.


    Taylor received her Ph.D. in History from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She holds a dual BA in Honors Political Science and Sociology from the American University in Cairo. Taylor’s research has been funded by Ford Foundation Predoctoral and Dissertation Fellowships, the Social Science Research Council, the Council for American Overseas Research Centers, and the Rutgers Center for African Studies. In 2017, she was a fellow-in-residence at the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Philadelphia.


    In addition to her writing and research, Taylor is an editor for the Arab Studies Journal and History of Anthropology Review, and a collaborating researcher with the global natural history digital humanities project, Natural Things | Ad Fontes Naturae. She works intimately with ethnographic collections, and intends to curate her own exhibit in the near future. Outside of the academy, Taylor is a semi-professionally trained vocalist specializing in late Renaissance polyphonic and early baroque music. She most recently performed with the early music collegium, Aura Polyphonica. She enjoys singing and reading horror/speculative fiction.


    Superstitious Women

    Book Manuscript-in-Preparation

    My first book project, Superstitious Women: Race, Magic, and Medicine in Egypt reconstructs the role that wise women, especially Upper Egyptian female healers, played in the global development of anthropological expertise and the robust spiritual economy of healing in late Ottoman Egypt. The project combines Middle East history’s rich foundation of gender/women’s and social history, with insights from science and technology studies, critical race and post-colonial studies, and budding scholarship on the Islamicate occult sciences to consider how racialized constructions of the Upper Egyptian peasant woman—along with the socio-medical, spiritual, and economic worlds they inhabited—shaped the making of modern Egypt. I recast histories of magic, medicine, markets and museums through the ideas and practices of wise women. The development of anthropological thought in interwar Egypt and abroad, I argue, hinged on the study of “superstitious” healing practices (khorafa) or “old wives medicine” (tibb al-rukka) attributed to Upper Egyptian and formerly enslaved East African healing practitioners. My study uses wise women’s amulets and talismans—collected in Egypt by anthropologists, medical officials, and private collectors—as an archival source to write the social and intellectual histories of lower-class women, formerly enslaved Africans, and Upper Egyptian migrants who left few traditional archives.


    Superstitious Women brings the tools and practices of Islamic occultism to the forefront of recent explorations of decolonial/postcolonial science studies, placing women and African migrants at the center of this knowledge production. It is one of the first in the field of modern Middle Eastern history to rely on amulets and talismans collected in Egypt by anthropologists, medical officials, and private collectors between 1900 and 1930 as archival sources for lower class women, formerly enslaved Africans, and Upper Egyptian migrants who left few documents in traditional archives. These amulets—which ranged from copper “fear cups,” to animal teeth, to plant matters—were key technologies that blurred “the illusory boundary” between humanity and nature, as well as the material world and the realm of the unseen. The project intervenes in global histories of science, and particularly scholarship on science in the non-West to promote two methodological approaches: decolonial materialism and the amulet tale. These methods engage with and decolonize new materialism to utilize its ontological possibilities to tell the stories of humans that have never been seen as human enough.

    Living Fossils

    Second Book Project

    My second monograph, Living Fossils, interrogates how Egyptian and European agricultural scientists, race scientists, doctors, and entomologists theorized the body of the Egyptian fellah as an entity that metaphorically and materially straddled the boundaries between “environment” and “technology” in Egypt at the turn of the nineteenth century. Mythologized as ancient technologies born from the mud of the Nile itself, the laboring bodies of the Egyptian fellahin (peasantry) were central to the making of modern Egypt. The project draws from critical race theory and histories of environment and technology to explore how the racialized bodies and bodily labor of the Egyptian peasantry subsidized the development of the global disciplines of medicine, anthropology, archaeology, entomology, and agricultural science. I show that the violent extraction of their labor took place when they were alive—in the field, factory, and in the birthing clinic—and continued after death on the dissection table.


    Invited Talks + Conferences + Workshop Presentations


    October 2020: "The Curse of the Black Eggplant: Reconstructing Occult Economies in Late Ottoman Egypt," The American Research Center in Egypt Lecture Series, Cairo (hosted on Zoom).


    March 2021: “Down to the Bone: Dissecting Blackness in Early Twentieth-Century Egypt,” Blackness in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Speaker Series, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, UNC Chapel Hill (hosted on Zoom)


    May 2021: “Amuletic Archives, or Conjuring Material Histories of Islamic Occult Science,” Roundtable: To Better Conjure the Dead: Toward a Historical Anthropology of Islamic Magic, 55th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalazmazoo.


    July 2021: “Fal’atiyya: Magicians as Threats to Public Safety in Late Ottoman Cairo,” Panel: The Magic of Germs: Transformations and Continuities in Late Ottoman Public Health, Comité International des Études Pré-Ottomanes et Ottomanes (CIEPO), Thessaloniki.


    November 2019: “Ethnographic Magic Revisited: Conjuring Histories of Indigenous Science from Egypt’s Anthropological Archive,” American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Vancouver.


    November 2019: “Occult(ed) Ontologies,” Panel: Magical Materialities Toward a History of (Occult) Technology in the Islamicate World from the 13th to the 21st Centuries, Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting, New Orleans.


    August 2019: “Shibbolethic Science: Bodies as Technology in the Egyptian Sugar Cane Industry (1890-1910),” Panel: Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Enviro-tech Histories, European Society for Environmental History Annual Meeting, Tallinn.


    April 2019: “The Rhinoceros Horn and the Black Eggplant: An Experiment in (Un)Natural Histories,” Natural Things: Collection and the History of Science in the Age of Global Empires, Hamilton College.


    January 2019: “Pills and Potions: Medicine, Magic, and Ethnography in Abdel Rahman Ismail’s Tibb al-Rukka,” Medical Mobilities in the Middle East and North Africa 1830-1960, Nazareth.


    November 2018: Medicine and Science: Geography, Periodization, and Rupture Roundtable, Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting, San Antonio.


    November 2018: “Fellah Entomology: Observing and Eradicating Bugs in the Great Locust Invasion of 1915,” Panel: Knowing Nature: Epistemologies, Scientific Exchange, and Exploration in the Ottoman Empire, 17th-20th Centuries, Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting, San Antonio.


    November 2017: “‘Living Fossils’: Pelvic Bones and Fertile Wombs as Objects of Natural History in Semicolonial Egypt,” History of Science Society Annual Meeting, Toronto.


    July 2017: “Amulet Tales: Economies of Magic and Healing in Interwar Ethnographic Collections,” The Material Culture of Exploration and Academic Travel, 1700-1900, Gottingen Spirit Summer School, University of Gottingen, Germany.


    March 2017: “The Wise Women and Winifred: Fertility Talismans and Ethnographic Collections in Interwar Egypt,” The Globalization of Science in the Middle East and North Africa, The College of the Holy Cross, St. John, MA.


    April 2016: “Talismans and Tomb-Chapels: Winifred Blackman’s Collections as a Source for Modern Egyptian History,” The Object Habit: Legacies of Fieldwork and the Museum,” University College London, London, England.


    October 2015: “Cane Cultivators, Sheyukh, and Magical Eggplants: The Political and Spiritual Economy of Plants in Khedival Upper Egypt,” American Folklore Society Annual Meeting, Long Beach, California.


    March 2014: “Superstitious Women: The Cultivation of the Upper Egyptian Fellaha and the de-Africanization of Egyptian Memory,” The Eighth Annual Greater New York Area African History Workshop, Princeton University.


     5 April 2018: ‘Living Fossils’: Pelvic Bones and Fertile Wombs as Objects of Natural History in Semicolonial Egypt,” History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium, Stanford University.


    20 March 2018: “Living Room Magic: Tibb al-Rukka and Ritualistic Ethnography in Interwar Egypt,” American Philosophical Society Brown Bag Lunch Series, Philadelphia, PA.

  • Teaching + Syllabi

    I am equipped to teach online and in-person undergraduate survey courses on the history of the Middle East and Islamic World; histories of science, technology, and medicine/magic; women's and gender history; and critical race theory. I also teach upper-level undergraduate seminars and graduate courses like Decolonial/Postcolonial Science Studies; Science, Technology and Medicine in the Middle East; and Race (and) Science in Global History; as well as thematic classes on magic and occultism in global history (with an emphasis on the Islamicate World), museums and collecting, and feminist decolonial technoscience.


    Using both traditional and non-traditional archives, I believe that it is my role to cultivate what I have come to call ‘critical imagination’ in my classroom. Imagination as a critical pedagogy forges a connection between the imagination and lived reality. In my courses on Middle East History, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Science and Technology Studies I hope to compel students to move beyond rote memorization and critique to imagine alternative possibilities both in their academic work and daily lives. Diversity work and inclusive pedagogies are at the foundation of my passion for research, service work, and teaching in the university. I will work with my colleagues and students to provide an inclusive and engaging university environment—one where students can gain exposure to and research the diversity of human experience in the fields of Middle Eastern and North African History, Science and Technology Studies, and Race, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.


    See some examples of courses I have designed below. Please email if you would like to see syllabi.

    ‘Searchers After Horror’: A Global History of Science Through Science Fiction

    This is an introductory level course designed to meet humanities and global core requirements. Taking its name from the Lovecraftian phrase used to describe 19th century explorers to the Congo, the course provides a survey of major events and historiography in the global history of science from the medieval to modern periods, using science fiction short stories as its primary sources. It is organized thematically by power/colonialism, gender, race, and non-western approaches to science. Each theme is framed by a selection of short stories which speak to the weekly readings. This course will show how hopes and anxieties about scientific progress were reflected in science fiction literature, as well as how scholars in the non-west/of non-western traditions have looked to science fiction to narrate histories of knowledge production that have gone ignored as “scientific” or worthy of history of science’s canon.

    Science and Technology in Middle Eastern History

    This course is a seminar that explores the history of science and technology in the Modern Middle East. Ranging historically from the Islamic medieval period until present day, the course will introduce students to a selection of texts that address and challenge key themes of “science,” “technology,” “progress,” etc. that have proliferated in the field of Middle East history since its inception. We will cover topics ranging from eugenic science, rational medicine, and ethnography to jinn and talismanic magic. Additionally, this course will prepare students to embark on their own original research papers using archival and primary sources.

    Cairo Time: History through the Lens of the “Victorious City”

    This introductory online course will allow students to ‘travel’ to the city now known as Cairo, and watch it grow and develop from being a relatively small merchant city in the Ottoman Empire to a sprawling megalopolis that has become one of the centers of the Arab Spring in the 21st century.

  • Contact Info