History 12: Introduction to the Middle East
Goal: This course has four major goals. First, is to provide you with basic literacy in the field of Middle East history. Second, this course explores what it means to do history by making explicit various approaches and methodologies used to construct narratives about change over time. Third, it is designed to help you educate yourself on your own and to contextualize current developments. Finally, this course emphasizes writing, critical thinking, and thematic synthesis --skills that you will need regardless of career path-- through the assignment of brief weekly essays.
Content: The diverse peoples of Southwest Asia/North Africa (a region recently labeled "The Middle East") have a rich and remarkable history. They established some of the earliest centers of agriculture-based civilizations and urban life, carried the messages of the world's three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), and served as the economic and cultural fulcrum of the world system during the medieval and early modern periods. The first part of this course outlines these and other themes up to the Seventeenth Century. The second part focuses on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an era of intense social, economic and cultural transformation that led to the demise of the Ottoman and other empires and the emergence of a new state system, most of it under the colonial domination of Britain and France. The remainder of the course (Parts III, IV) is devoted to an exploration of the forces that have shaped the Middle East during the Twentieth Century such as the colonial encounter and rise of nationalist movements, the discovery of oil, regional conflicts and the Cold War, the rise of political Islam, and U.S. military intervention. Throughout, the major themes will be illustrated through case studies of specific countries as well as through the study of the causes and consequences of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Iranian Revolution, and the Gulf Wars.
Framework: Two organizing principles guide the presentation of information. First, "They" are not essentially different from "Us." The Middle East is not an exotic and mysterious region intelligible only to the initiated: its historical developments can be understood using the same social science units of analysis commonly applied to the study of other regions. Second, facts acquire meanings through interpretative frameworks. The arguments made in the assigned texts, lectures and films represent a wide range of approaches to this region's history. It is essential that you maintain a critical perspective and carefully evaluate the merits of each argument.
Readings: Required readings include academic books, primary documents, and in-depth scholarly articles that address the key developments in the history of this region. Readings also include social biographies of "ordinary" people, literary works and films. These additional readings will help you to relate to the peoples of the Middle East on a fundamental human level, to recognize that their societies are far more diverse and complex than is generally assumed, and to understand the myriad ways in which ordinary people struggle for survival in a fast-changing world.