SOAS University of London

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

Reading Classical Arabic historians

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. read and understand the Arabic texts of a number of important historians of the first six centuries of Islam.
  2. gain a firm grounding in the origins and development of early Arabic historiography.
  3. demonstrate the manuscript tradition of the texts and their importance as sources for the history of the period.
  4. demonstrate a firm understanding of the forms and functions of narrative in classical Arabic prose literature.


Total of 20 weeks teaching with two hours per week lecturing and one hour per week tutorials.

Scope and syllabus

This module 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%); one essay of 2,000 words to be submitted on the last Friday of term 1 (Friday 13 December) (25%); one essay of 2,000 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