Introduction to the modern Middle East

Satellite view of the Middle East.
Satellite view of the Middle East. [Source: Wikipedia]

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. [Introductory/survey-level course]

Course expectation and student evaluation

Regular attendance of this course’s lectures and thorough reading of the assigned texts are critical to success in this class. The readings consist of a selection from the textbook, supplemented by articles and chapters from other books that illuminate various aspects of the topic. Students are expected to have read the assigned readings in advance of each lecture and to be prepared to talk about them in the discussion sections. Students will be evaluated on the basis of four factors: (1) two five-page essays (25% each), (3) final exam (35%), and (4) participation (15%). Sporadic ‘pop’ quizzes delivered at the beginning of class will offer students a chance to earn extra credit. At the end of this course, it is hoped that students will have not only a better understanding of the modern Middle East, but have developed better research skills, practiced critical thinking and reading, and gained experience collecting and presenting information clearly.

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. Historical context

  1. The Geography of the Middle East

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. Introduction to the Middle East: Religion, ethnicity, and history

  4. Required reading:
  5. The Ottoman and Qajar Empires in the Nineteenth Century

  6. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

II. European power and influence in the Middle East

  1. Turkey: From Muslim empire to secularist republic

  2. Required reading:
  3. Iran: From dynasty to autocracy

  4. Required reading:
  5. Egypt, Iraq, and Transjordan under British rule

  6. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. Syria and Lebanon under French rule

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. Palestine from British Mandate to State of Israel

  10. Essay #1 due
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

III. Independence and the age of nationalism

  1. Religion, the state, and the army in Turkey and Iran

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. Nāṣirism in Egypt and the Arab world

  4. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. The 1967 War and the decline of pan-Arabism

  6. Required reading:
  7. Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arabs, 1967–1979

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. Iraq and Syria under Baʿth authoritarianism

  10. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

V. Revolution and revolt

  1. The Iranian Revolution and the resurgence of Islam

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. Lebanon: From civil war to the ‘Party of God’

  4. Essay #2 due
    Required reading:
  5. The Palestinians: From the Intifāḍah to the Oslo era

  6. Required reading:
  7. Israel and the Palestinians since the Oslo era

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

VI. Reform, religion, and radicalism in the contemporary Middle East

  1. Challenges to political ideology in Turkey and Iran

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. The Persian Gulf Wars and the reconstruction of Iraq

  4. Required reading:
  5. Oil and Islam in the Persian Gulf states

  6. Required reading:
  7. Tensions and changes in Israeli society

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. Political & radical Islam: From Muslim Brethren to ISIS

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

  12. Required reading:
    Final exam 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