From the 19th century onwards, the Arab and Ottoman world attracted an increasing number of scientists, scholars, explorers … and spies!
The fascinating new facts relayed back to Europe by French scholars in the wake of Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt and Syria in 1798–99, led to an intensified European interest in the Middle East in general. In the decades that followed, and aided by increasing European penetration of the region, many scientists, scholars and explorers followed the French example of travelling within the Arab and Ottoman world to gain knowledge in a wide variety of fields. A lot of investigation was undertaken well before and – at least on the face of it – unrelated to the gradually unfolding imperialist ambitions of European powers in key areas of the Middle East and North Africa in the second half of the 19th century. Archaeology, for example, made some of its most important and pioneering strides during this period. Nevertheless, other aspects of scholarly and scientific investigation did help either directly or indirectly to facilitate the steady progress of imperialism by providing crucial strategic and logistic information about the region and its resources.