Telegraphing Revolt: Protest Diffusion in the 1919 Egyptian Revolution

Speaker: Neil Ketchley

University of Oslo

This event is part of the Sociology Seminar Series, which will take place online throughout Michaelmas Term 2020.

Abstract: It is fashionable to emphasize how the internet has enabled the rapid diffusion of protest. This paper examines to what extent telegraph, telephone, postal, railway, and road networks shaped protest diffusion in the twentieth century. The argument is illustrated with the case of Egypt during the 1919 Revolution, when mass protest broke out across the country in just a few days. Pairing event data from Arabic-language newspapers and colonial security reports with geo-referenced maps, the paper demonstrates how Egypt's early communications infrastructure facilitated the rapid spread of protest in a semi-agrarian context characterized by political disorganization. The unlikely decision to place Egypt's first major rail terminus at Kafr al-Zayat is exploited to account for local variation in connectivity. The findings point to the enduring role of communications infrastructure in processes of revolutionary mobilization.

The Sociology Seminar Series for Trinity Term is convened by Christopher Barrie, Fangqi Wen and Tobias Ruttenauer. For more information about this or any of the seminars in the series, please contact