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:
Term 1

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.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

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


Total of 10 weeks teaching, 3 hours total classrrom time per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 2 hour tutorial each week.

Method of assessment

  • 4 x gobbet commentaries (4000 words for all 4 gobbets in total) to be submitted in term 1, week 7, day 1 (60%)
  • 1 x essay (2500 words) to be submitted in term 1, week 11, day 5 (40%)

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