SOAS University of London

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

Reading Classical Arabic Historians: Themes and Trends in Islamic Historiography

Module Code:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module the student should be able to read and understand the Arabic texts of a number of important historians of the first six centuries of Islam. He/she will have a firm grounding in the origins and development of early Arabic historiography. The student should also be aware of the manuscript tradition of the texts and their importance as sources for the history of the period. In addition, the student will have acquired a firm understanding of the forms and functions of narrative in classical Arabic prose literature.


This module is taught over 20 weeks with a weekly seminar of one and a half hours and a tutorial every second week of one hour. In addition, there is also a reading class of one hour per week which is not compulsory but which students are encouraged to attend.

Scope and syllabus

The module will examine a selection of important Arabic historical texts. These will include the following: al-Baladhuri’s account of the Islamic conquest of Syria in the Futūh al-buldān, al-Tabari’s account of the death of the caliph al-Amin from the Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-mulūk, Ibn al-Athīr’s account of the Mongol conquests from the Kāmil fi’l-ta’rikh, In Fadlān’s Risala describing his travels to the Volga Rus, Ibn Jubayr’s account of his travels though the Crusader states from his Rihla and Usama b. Munqidh’s account of the Franks from the Kitāb al- Itibar. The reading class will look at Ibn Hawqal’s geographical work, the Kitab surat al-ard.

Method of assessment

One 3 hour written examination taken in May/June (50%), one set of comments on passages of text 3,000-3,500 words to be submitted by Friday of 11th week, term 1 and one essay of 3,000-3,500 words to be submitted on Friday week 11 of term 2*. *Final essay has been changed to Friday Week 1 of Term 3, due to strike disruption.

Suggested reading

Cooperson, M., Classical Arabic Biography (Cambridge, 2000)
Donner, F.M., Narratives of Islamic Origins (Princeton, 1998)
El-Hibri, T., Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 1999)
Lindsay, J. E. , Ibn Asakir and Early Islamic Hisoriography (Princeton, 2001)
Kennedy, H., The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates (London, 2004)
Khalidi, T., Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Period (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