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:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

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.

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.


The module is taught over 10 weeks, 3 hours each week 

Method of assessment

  • 4 x Gobbet commentaries (4,000 words for all 4 gobbets) submitted, day 1, week 7, term 1(60%)
  • 1 x essay (2,500 words) submitted day 5, week 11, term 1

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