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 2

This module will examine a selection of the most important and interesting historical texts in the classical Arabic tradition, dating from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries CE. These will include al-Balādhuri’s account of the Muslim conquest of Damascus in his Futūḥ al-buldān, al-Ṭabarī’s narrative of the death of the Caliph al-Amīn in 813 from his Ta’rīkh, Ibn al-Athīr’s account of the Mongol conquests of Iran from his Kāmil fī’l-ta’rīkh and Usāma b. Munqidh’s account of the Franks (Crusaders) in his Kitāb al-Iʿtibār. The teaching will study the Arabic texts but English translations will be provided for them all.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

One successful completion of the module the student will be able to:

  • Read and understand the Arabic texts of some of the most important and characteristic historians of the first six centuries of Islam
  • Gain a firm understanding of the forms and methods of Arabic historiography
  • Understand the manuscript tradition and transmission of the texts.
  • Have an overview of some of the most important turning points in pre-modern Islamic history


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) (60%)
  • 1 x essay (2500 words) (40%)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

Suggested reading

  • Cooperson, Michael, Classical Arabic Biography (Cambridge 2001)
  • El-Hibri, Tayyib, Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Kennedy, Hugh, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates (London 2004)
  • Khalidi, Tarif, Arabi Historical Thought in the Classical Period (Cambridge, 1994)
  • Noth, Albrecht, The Early Islamic Historical Tradition (Princeton, 1994)
  • Robinson, Chase, Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 2003)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules