SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Reading Classical Arabic Historians

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course the student should be able to read and understand the Arabic texts of a number of important historians of the first six centuries of Islam. He/she will have a firm grounding in the origins and development of early Arabic historiography. The student will be able to demonstrate the manuscript tradition of the texts and their importance as sources for the history of the period. In addition, the student will be able to demonstrate a firm understanding of the forms and functions of narrative in classical Arabic prose literature.


This course is taught over 22 weeks with 2 hours per week classroom contact.

Scope and syllabus

The course will examine a selection of important historical texts. These will include the following: al-Baladhuri’s account of the Islamic conquest of Syria in the Futuh al-Buldan, al-Tabari’s account of the death of the caliph al-Amin from the Ta’rikh al-Rusuk wa’l-muluk,, Miskawayh’s description of the accession of the caliph al-Muqtadir in the Tajarib al-umam, Abu Shama’s Dhayl al-rawdatayn, Ibn al-Athir’s account of the Mongol conquest of north east Iran in his Kamil f’l-Ta’rikh

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (50%); an essay of 3,000 - 3,500 words to be submitted on Friday, week 1, term 2 (25%); an essay of 3,000 - 3,500 words to be submitted on Friday, week 1, term 3 (25%).  

Suggested reading

  • Cooperson, M., Classical Arabic Biography (Cambridge, 2000)
  • El-Hibri, T., Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Kennedy, H., The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates (London, 2004)
  • Khalidi, T., Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Perod (Cambridge, 1994)
  • Hirschler, K., Medieval Arabic Historiography: authors as actors (London, 2006)
  • Noth, A., The Early Arabic Historical Tradition (Princeton, 1994)
  • Robinson, C., Islamic Histoiography (Cambridge, 2003)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules