The Making of the modern Middle East

Satellite view of the Middle East at night.
Satellite view of the Middle East at night. [Source: NASA Earth Observatory]

As the ‘cradle of civilisation’ located at the juncture of three continents, the Middle East is home to a wide range of cultures, religions, and ethnicities that make the region so interesting, yet so complex. This survey course will introduce students to the modern Middle East, beginning with the important changes of the Nineteenth Century and continuing through the period of European dominance into the age of independence and the contemporary Middle East. Throughout the course, we will examine various themes, especially the important and recurring force of religion. Some of the topics that we will cover include the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iranian Revolution, the Persian Gulf Wars, and radicalism, while placing them within the broader framework of the modern Middle East. We will conclude by addressing recent developments in the region and its outlook for the future. [Intermediate-level course]

Course expectation and student evaluation

This course represents a combination of a lecture and seminar approaches and individual participation in class dialogues is critical. Most classes include a discussion period for conversation about required reading. Each student will have the opportunity to present a brief review of a text, after which he/she will lead a discussion. At the end of this course, it is hoped that students will have not only a better understanding of the Middle East, but have developed better research skills, practiced critical thinking and reading, and gained experience collecting and presenting information clearly.

Course grades will be assigned on the basis of several elements:

  1. in-class quizzes (15% total)—a map quiz and five 5-minute quizzes (lowest grade dropped) on critical terms (e.g., 1967 War, Rūḥ-Ollāh Khomeynī, Kemal Atatürk);
  2. pop reading quizzes (10%)—short, random multiple-choice quizzes on major themes of assigned readings;
  3. mid-term paper (20%)—take-home essay on an assigned topic, using only the class readings as sources (5 pages);
  4. final research paper (30%)—each student will write a research paper (about 15 pages) on a topic of their choice relating to the course and making use of literature (at least 6 sources) not assigned as part of the class reading;
  5. class participation (25%)—contribution to in-class and online discussions and attendance, critical to a successful experience (students with over three absences lose their entire participation grade; each additional two absences result in a letter-grade penalty off of the overall course grade), including also a discussion article presentation, where each student presents at least one required reading, emphasising its core argument and leading a class discussion about it.
This division of factors aims to give all students a fair chance at a good grade by avoiding too much emphasis on one examination method. Nevertheless, since a large share of the grade (25%) derives from participation and the discussion presentation, this means that you must attend and participate in class to get a good grade. The key to good participation is reading the assigned texts, so come prepared!

Each student has the opportunity to submit up to two extra credit response papers to contemporary news articles on current events the Middle East. In order to receive credit, you must read and submit an article from a newspaper listed below, along with your thoughts on the article (one page). Other extra credit opportunities will be announced periodically throughout the semester; students will be allowed a maximum of five total extra credit opportunities during the term. You are also strongly encouraged to follow Middle East news during (and after!) the semester. Some mainstream newspaper sources:

Required texts

Cleveland, William L and Martin Bunton. A History of the modern Middle East. 6th ed. Boulder: Westview Press, 2016.

Hourani, Albert Habib, Philip Shukry Khoury, and Mary Christina Wilson, eds. The Modern Middle East: A Reader. 2nd ed. London & New York City: I B Tauris, 2004.

Course outline

I. Introduction to the modern Middle East

  1. Introduction to the Middle East

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire

  4. Map quiz
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

II. European power and influence in the Middle East

  1. Secular and modern reform in Turkey and Iran

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. British and French rule in the Mandatory period

  4. Quiz #1
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. Palestine from British Mandate to State of Israel

  6. Quiz #1
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

III. Independence and the age of nationalism

  1. Arab nationalism in Egypt and the Arab world

  2. Quiz #2
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. The 1967 War and the decline of pan-Arabism

  4. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. Iraq and Syria under Baʿth authoritarianism

  6. Mid-term due
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. Religion, the state, and the army in Turkey and Iran

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

IV. The Resurgence of Islam

  1. The Iranian Revolution and the resurgence of Islam

  2. Quiz #3
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. War and protest in the 1980s: Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestinians

  4. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. Israel and the Palestinians since the Oslo Accords

  6. Quiz #4
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. Political & radical Islam: From Muslim Brethren to ISIS

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. Challenges to political ideology in Turkey and Iran

  10. Quiz #4
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  11. New and future challenges in the Middle East

  12. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
    Final research paper due at end of term.

Upcoming talks and lectures

Please note that not all of these events are open to the general audience; please check with the organisers to confirm.
  • 19–21 October 2017—‘Iranian exiles in Istanbul and Ottoman–Qājār relations’ (10th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa): Key Bridge Marriott Hotel, Washington, DC.
  • 18–21 November 2017—‘Call-and-response battles in Syria and Iraq: The Literary construction of Islamic collective memory’ (51st annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association): Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, DC.
  • Past events ► click to expand