SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H249 Empire and Reform in the Modern Middle East, 1789-1914

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

The module will approach the concept of Empire in the Middle East through two main themes: reform and reaction. In a first step, the module deals with state-led reform in the Ottoman Empire, Qajar Iran and Egypt. We will analyse the actual reform measures, the theories behind them and their impact on the respective states and societies. We will further discuss ways in which societies, groups and individuals reacted to the various challenges of modernity and the reform measures which were often top-down, authoritarian policies. While state institutions and attempts at centralisation gained ground throughout the period, various groups below the state level retained sometimes surprising levels of agency. In particular, the module will explore ways to analyse history “from below”, discovering the perspectives of non-elite and subaltern groups such as (but not exclusively) women, workers, nomads or refugees. The other imperial presence this module will look at is that of Western imperialist encroachment, which happened both via direct intervention and “soft imperialism.” A re-occurring question will be how Middle Eastern states and societies negotiated the pressures of imperialism and colonialism. We will observe the extent to which reform movements in the Ottoman and Qajar Empires as well as Egypt can be seen as indigenous responses to European penetration inspired by new ideas about state, society and Islam. Attention is also devoted to imperial peripheries and to the emergence of nationalism as a prelude to the establishment of modern nation states after the First World War.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • gain a solid overview of the main events, developments and trends in the history of the Middle East in the 19th/ early 20th century.
  • discuss and critically apply broader historical concepts, such as ideas of modernity, regional definitions of the Middle East, transformation, reform, empire and the nation state.
  • confidently read advanced secondary texts and critically engage with a variety of scholarly debates.
  • critically analyse of a wide variety of primary sources, including both official documents as well as text, images and sound from various other genres (e.g. personal narratives, literature, film, music, etc.).
  • practice research skills and discuss, analyse and present their research in writing through a variety of diverse assignments, aimed at building up confidence towards more advanced writing in the final year of their degree. 

Scope and syllabus

  • Session 1: General overview, timeline and main concepts
  • Session 2: Empire in the Middle East: Decline and reform
  • Session 3: The Ottoman Empire in the Tanzimat period, 1789- 1876
  • Session 4: Reform and resistance in Qajar Iran, 1848- 1905
  • Session 5: The other empire: Egypt under Muhammad Ali and his descendants
  • Session 6: European Imperialism and “humanitarian interventions”
  • Session 7: Empire and its others: Minorities and the "subaltern"
  • Session 8: Empire and its discontents: Revolution and opposition
  • Session 9: Culture, society and the promises of “progress”
  • Session 10: The empire challenged: The rise of nationalisms 

Method of assessment

  •  AS1-Response paper, 500 words (15%)
  •  AS2- Response paper, 500 words (15%)
  •  AS3- Essay, 2500 word (70%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules