Histories of Palestine in the pre-1948 period usually assume the emergent Arab-Zionist conflict to be the central axis around which all change revolves. In Land of Progress Jacob Norris suggests an alternative historical vocabulary is needed to broaden our understanding of the region's recent past. In particular, for the architects of empire and their agents on the ground, Palestine was conceived primarily within a developmental discourse that pervaded colonial practice from the turn of the twentieth century onwards. A far cry from the post-World War II focus on raising living standards, colonial development in the early twentieth century was more interested in infrastructure and the exploitation of natural resources.
Land of Progress charts this process at work across both the Ottoman and British periods in Palestine, focusing on two of the most salient but understudied sites of development anywhere in the colonial world: the Dead Sea and Haifa. Weaving the experiences of local individuals into a wider narrative of imperial expansion and anti-colonial resistance, Norris demonstrates the widespread excitement Palestine generated among those who saw themselves at the vanguard of progress and modernisation, whether they were Ottoman or British, Arab or Jewish. Against this backdrop, Norris traces the gradual erosion during the mandate period of the mixed style of development that had prevailed under the Ottoman Empire, as the new British regime viewed Zionism as the sole motor of modernisation. As a result, the book's latter stages relate the extent to which colonial development became a central issue of contestation in the struggle for Palestine that unfolded in the 1930s and 40s.