Reading Classical Arabic Historians: Themes and Trends in Islamic Historiography

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module will examine a selection of the most important and interesting historical texts in the classical Arabic tradition, dating from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries CE. These will include al-Balādhuri’s account of the Muslim conquest of Damascus in his Futūḥ al-buldān , al-Ṭabarī’s narrative of the death of the Caliph al-Amīn in 813 from his Ta’rīkh , Ibn al-Athīr’s account of the Mongol conquests of Iran from his Kāmil fī’l-ta’rīkh and Usāma b. Munqidh’s account of the Franks (Crusaders) in his Kitāb al-Iʿtibār . The teaching will study the Arabic texts but English translations will be provided for them all.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module


One successful completion of the module the student will be able to:

  • Read and understand the Arabic texts of some of the most important and characteristic historians of the first six centuries of  Islam
  • Gain a firm understanding of the forms and methods of Arabic historiography
  • Understand the manuscript tradition and transmission of the texts.
  • Have an overview of some of the most important turning points in pre-modern Islamic history




Total of 10 weeks teaching. 3 hours of lecture/seminar teaching per week.


Method of assessment


  • 4x gobbet commentaries (4,000 words for all 4 gobbets in total) (60%)
  • 1x essay (2500 words) (40%)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page


Suggested reading

  • Cooperson, Michael, Classical Arabic Biography (Cambridge 2001)
  • El-Hibri, Tayyib, Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Kennedy, Hugh, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates (London 2004)
  • Khalidi, Tarif, Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Period (Cambridge, 1994)
  • Noth, Albrecht., The Early Islamic Historical Tradition (Princeton, 1994)
  • Robinson, Chase, Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 2003)


Professor Hugh Kennedy


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules