H248 Rethinking Middle East History

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of History, Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

How should we understand the political worlds of the Middle East?

It is common to see the region’s modern and contemporary history as a succession of failings: the slow pace of reform in the nineteenth century; the failure of modernisation and economic development in the twentieth century; and today, the lack of democracy, the inability to achieve peace, the breakdown of military security, and the failure of states.

This module takes a different approach. It asks how we came to approach politics as the measuring of success according to a certain set of goals, such as development, peace, and security. Who defined those goals and how are they measured? How have others seen the problems of collective life, including intellectuals and political actors from the Middle East itself? Are there alternative ways to understand the present predicaments of peoples of the region and the paths towards a less precarious life? Can other accounts of the recent past, not framed as the failure of development or the inability to make peace, support alternative futures?

Objectives and learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • identify key features of the way the history of the Middle East has been told and explain why this history has been told as a succession of failings
  • engage with and evaluate alternative approaches to the study of Middle East history
  • compose evidence-based arguments about how a reimagined history of the Middle East supports alternative futures.


  • Lectures: 1hr per week
  • Seminars: 1hr per week
  • Independent study: 80hrs (over 10 weeks)

Method of assessment

  • 1,000-word reading response or review (worth 30% of marks)
  • 2,500-word essay (worth 70%)

Suggested reading

  • Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (2011)
  • Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Foucault in Iran: Islamic Revolution after the Enlightenment (2016)
  • Sara Pursley, Familiar Futures: Time, Selfhood and Sovereignty in Iraq (2019)
  • Ervand Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran (revised edition) (2008)
  • On Barak, On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (2013)
  • Samera Esmeir, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (2012)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.