Empire and Reform in the Modern Middle East, 1789-1914

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History

Module overview

This module examines aspects of Middle Eastern modernity in the 19th and early 20th centuries following the main themes of Empire and Revolution. It covers case studies from the Arab world, Turkey and Iran from the late Ottoman and Qajar periods to the late 1950s. The module follows a comparative and thematic approach in order to discuss the unity and diversity of experiences across the region. It proposes a critical evaluation of different types of imperial enterprises - from the indigenous to the European - as political, social and cultural projects bringing the Middle East and its peoples into the modern world.  The theme of revolution is approached in a broad sense, to include political and social upheavals of different type and intensity, but also long-term social and cultural change. Institutional, social and cultural aspects of imperial modernity are considered in order to examine the politics of empire, class and community and to enable students to familiarize with topics and debates that they can explore further in the essay and in the dissertation.

The organisation of the class sessions is both thematic and chronological. After an introduction focussing on current theoretical debates on empire, modernity, revolution and the West from a historical perspective, the first lecture analyse revolutionary movements in the late Ottoman and Qajar Empires under the aegis of constitutionalism. The theme of revolution is then presented in the socio-cultural context of early Republican Turkey as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire. The second part of the course concentrates on case studies from other successor states of the Ottoman Empire and Qajar Iran which came under more or less direct European rule. In Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Palestine the focus is on rural and urban mobilisation as a form of popular and elite resistance engendered by the imposition of different forms of European rule. In contrast, Pahlavi Iran is studied in the context of the development of the oil industry as a new type of imperial enterprise that created new spaces of modern urban living.


  • 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

  • gain a solid overview of the main events, developments and trends in the history of the Middle East in the 19th/ early 20th century.
  • practice discussing and critically applying broader historical concepts, such as Ideas of modernity, regional definitions of the Middle East, transformation, reform, empire and the nation state.
  • obtain confidence in reading advanced secondary texts and critically engaging with a variety of scholarly debates.
  • gain practice and confidence in the critical analysis of a wide variety of primary sources, including both official documents as well as text, images and sound from various other genres (e.g. personal narratives, literature, film, music, etc.).
  • practice independent research and the discussion, analysis and presentation of their research in writing through a variety of diverse assignments, aimed at building up confidence towards more advanced research and writing in the final stages of their degree.


One hour lecture and one hour seminar for 10 Weeks

Scope and syllabus

  • Session 1: General overview: main themes, debates and concepts
  • Session 2: Empire in the Middle East: Decline and reform
  • Session 3: Reforming empire 1: The Ottoman Empire in the Tanzimat period, 1789- 1876
  • Session 4: Reforming empire 2: Reform and resistance in Qajar Iran, 1848- 1905
  • Session 5: The other empire: Egypt under Muhammad Ali and his descendants
  • Session 6: European Imperialism and “humanitarian interventions”
  • Session 7: Empire and its others: Minorities and the “subaltern”
  • Session 8: Empire and its discontents: Revolution and opposition
  • Session 9: Culture, society and the promises of “progress”
  • Session 10: The empire challenged: The rise of nationalisms

Method of assessment

  • Methodology Paper of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark
  • Assignment of 2,500 words worth 80% 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.


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