SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Modernity and the Transformation of the Middle East I

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 1

Focussing on the Arab world, Turkey and Iran in the 19th and 20th centuries this course complements its related half-unit Modernity and the Transformation of the Middle East II and concentrates on the main themes of Empire and Revolution. With reference to these themes and adopting a comparative approach the course highlights the unity and diversity of manifestations of modernity in the political and social fields across time and space. First, it proposes a critical and comparative evaluation of different types of imperial enterprises in the region, from the indigenous to the European, as political projects bringing the Middle East into the modern world.  Second, it assesses these projects in the light of revolutions and uprisings as turbulent contexts of public action. These are scrutinised as ‘modernist’ v. ‘reactionary’ movements of imperial regeneration or empowerment, and as forms of popular and elite resistance to (and cooperation with) imperial and colonial administrations. Third, emphasis is placed on patters of continuity and change in imperial practices and institutions, and in modes, actors and contexts of contentious public action. The context of the course is provided by the transition from Ottoman and Qajar imperial rule to different types of modern states after the First World War, some of which came under more or less direct European control.    


  • Students  enrol via the on-line Module Sign-Up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Faculty Office

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • a critical and comparative understanding of processes of modernisation in the Middle East in the 19th and 20th centuries through the themes of Empire, Revolution and Resistance;
  • an appreciation and critical evaluation of the transition from empire to nation state in the region and an ability to relate different forms of imperial government to patterns of popular and elite mobilisation, particularly through the agency of particular historical actors such as soldiers, urban and rural crowds and clergymen;
  • familiarity with the relevant historiography on the region in the light of theoretical approaches to modernity, empire, colonialism and revolution in order to develop a critical understanding of different manifestations of imperial power, including Ottoman, Qajar and European, and to relate these manifestations to specific contexts of contentious public action;
  • an ability  to question a number of ‘givens’ about history such as concepts of empire, class, race and rebellion, and the role of the West in ‘exporting’ modernity outside the European world;
  •  (in the case of students from disciplinary different backgrounds) a familiarity with processes of historical change through the revaluation of familiar concepts;
  • proficiency in handling secondary materials and primary sources under tutor guidance during tutorials and group discussions, and in carrying out advanced bibliographical searches, also in preparation to further postgraduate study in modern history.


One hour lecture and one hour seminar for 10 Weeks

Method of assessment

 Reaction paper/book review of 1,500 words worth 40% of the final mark

Assignment of 3,000 words worth 60% of the final mark

Suggested reading

  • Abrahamian, Ervand  Iran between the Two Revolutions, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1982.
  • Afary, Janet, The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-1911. Grassroot Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origin of Feminism, Columbia University Press, New York, 1996.
  • Atabaki, T./ Zurcher, E. J.  Men of Order: Authoritarian Modernisers under Atatürk and Reza Shah , London, IB Tauris, 2003.
  • Bayly, Christopher, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914, Blackwell, Oxford, 2004.
  • Black, Carl. E/Brown, C., Modernisation in the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire and Its Afro-Asian Successors, Darwin, Princeton, 1992.
  • Blue, G./Bunton, M./Croizier, R. (eds), Colonialism and the Modern World: Selected Studies, Sharpe, London, 2002.
  • Beinin, Joel, Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001.
  • Chatterjee, Partha, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, OUP, Delhi, 1994.
  • Cole, Juan R.I. Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East. Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt’s ‘Urabi Movement, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1993.
  • Cooper, Fredrick, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge and History, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2005.
  • Crone, Patricia, Pre-Industrial Societies, Blackwell, Oxford, 1989.
  • Dodge, Toby, Inventing Iraq: the Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied, Hurst, London, 2003.
  • Gellner, Ernest, Nations and Nationalism, Verso, Oxford, 1993.
  • Hodgson, Marshall, The Venture of Islam. Conscience and History in a World Civilisation, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, various eds.
  • Hourani, A./Khoury, P./ Wilson, M. (eds),  The Modern Middle East, I.B. Tauris,  London, 1993.
  • Lockman, Zachary, Contending Visions of the Middle East. The History and Politics of Orientalism Cambridge, CUP, 2004.
  • Martin,Vanessa,  Islam and Modernism: the Iranian Revolution of 1906, Syracuse University Press, New York, 1989.
  • Mitchell, Timothy, Colonising Egypt, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988.
  • Owen, Roger, Lord Cromer: Victorian Imperialist, Edwardian Proconsul, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004.
  • Quataert, Donald, Social Disintegration and Popular Resistance in the Ottoman Empire, 1881-1908. Reactions to European Economic Penetration, New York University Press, New York, 1983.
  • Sluglett, Peter/Meouchy, Nadine (eds), Middle Eastern Mandates in Comparative Perspective, Brill, Leiden, 2004.
  • Watenpaugh, Keith D., Being Modern in the Middle East: Revolution, Nationalism, Colonialism and the Arab Middle Class, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2006.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules