H248 Nationalism and Revolution in the Modern Middle East, 1914-1979

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History

Module overview

This module focuses on the nation state as the dominant organisational form of political entities in the Middle East after the First World War and on nationalism as the most potent political ideology in the region. Nation states of the period can be divided, broadly speaking, into states that gained or retained independence directly after the First World War, such as the Republic of Turkey and Iran, as well as states that arose out of a colonial or quasi-colonial situation, such as the former League of Nations mandates. The module discusses the manifold challenges faced by individuals and movements aiming to establish national frameworks within societies previously defined in various other ways. National states were not established without resistance and disadvantage to groups and individuals with unclear or “divergent” identities. The module will give room to the voices of nationalism’s “Others”, giving an insight into the origins of many conflicts still haunting the region in the present.

While the nation state increasingly claimed sovereignty, Western imperial and imperialist encroachment continued to either directly or indirectly impact on the development of Middle Eastern states and societies, mainly in the shape of strategic interests of the US and to a lesser extent the Soviet Union. One major factor making for continued foreign intervention was the discovery of oil in the region from the 1920s onwards, which triggered a wave of “oil modernity” and modernisation on a dramatic scale. This module addresses the question of how newly independent Middle Eastern states and societies negotiated the space between the “blessings” of independence, oil prosperity and modernity on the one hand, and the continuing constraints of imperialist networks on the other. In this context, we will also analyse the rise of potential alternative constructs for human development, most importantly the project of political Islam.

Our inquiry will be based on a variety of secondary sources which should familiarise students with some of the main ideas, debates and tendencies in the historiography of the period. We will gain further insight from a critical reading of primary sources. Wherever possible, these primary sources will be produced by historical actors in the Middle East, stressing the importance of a wide variety of voices beyond Western narratives.


  • Students enrol via the on-line Module Sign-up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Dept. administrator

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This course will enable students:

  • to gain a solid overview of the main events, developments and trends in the history of the Middle East in the 20th century.
  • discuss and critically apply broader historical concepts, such as Ideas of modernity, regional definitions of the Middle East, transformation, reform, empire and the nation state.
  • to read confidently advanced secondary texts and critically engage with a variety of scholarly debates.
  • critically analyse a wide range of primary sources, including both official documents as well as texts, images and sound from a variety of other genres (e.g. personal narratives, literature, film, music, etc.).
  • practice research skills and discuss, analyse and present their research in writing through a variety of diverse assignments, aimed at building up confidence towards more advanced writing in the final year of their degree.

Scope and syllabus

  • Session 1: Introduction, main themes, debates and concepts
  • Session 2: The “long” First World War in the Middle East, 1912-1923
  • Session 3: Authoritarian modernism I: The Turkish Republic
  • Session 4: Authoritarian modernism II: Pahlavi Iran
  • Session 5: Building nation states in the Arab world
  • Session 6: The origins of the Israel- Palestine crisis
  • Session 7: Oil modernity and oil strategy: New forms of imperialism
  • Session 8: Alternatives to nationalism: The rise of political Islam
  • Session 9: Culture and society between revival and censorship
  • Session 10: De-colonisation and revolution, 1952- 1979

Method of assessment

  • Response paper, 500 words (15%)
  • Response paper, 500 words, (15%)
  • Essay, 2,500 words, (70% _

Suggested reading

  • Hourani, A.A. History of the Arab Peoples (London, 1991);
  • Hourani, A. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (London, 1962 & 1967; Cambridge, 1983);
  • Hourani, A., P.S. Khoury and M. Wilson M (eds.). The Modern Middle East (London, 1993);
  • Keddie, N.R. Roots of Revolution: an Interpretative History of Modern Iran (New Haven, 1981);
  • Yapp, M. The Making of the Modern Near East 1792-1923 (London, 1987)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules