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HIST4306JM Topic Studies in World History:The Making of the Middle East

Semester 1 (2020-2021)

Lecture TimeTuesday 2:30pm-4:15pm

VenueOnline via Zoom (details on Blackboard course website)


Lecturer James MORTON ((852) 3943 1531 /

Teaching Assistant Diki Sherpa (

Course Description


The ‘Middle East’ is a geographical concept developed by officials in the British Empire in the 19th century to describe the lands between Europe and their distant colonies in India and East Asia. In the 21st century, we often associate the Middle East with the Muslim religion and Arab culture, but it is a vast region spanning from Morocco to India and home to countless peoples and faiths. It is the birthplace not just of Islam but also of Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, while its peoples speak not just Arabic but also Farsi, Turkish, French, and more. At its extremities, the Middle East connects China, Europe, and Africa.

This course will provide a broad survey of Middle Eastern history from the last days of the ancient Roman and Persian Empires in the 6th century to the emergence of modern national identities in the 19th. We will look at the most important themes of change and continuity in the region, examining the important historical dynamics that have made the Middle East what it is today. We will also situate it in the wider context of world history, seeing how it has affected, and been affected by, events in Europe, Asia, and even the Americas.

Learning Goals

This course has three main goals:

  1. To acquaint you with the fundamentals of the medieval and early modern history of the Middle East: key sources, events, places, states, religions, etc.
  2. To explore how and why historians have constructed narratives around change and continuity in the Middle East.
  3. To help you develop the fundamental skillset and sensibility of a historian: how to understand primary sources, how to think critically about historical narratives, and how to effectively communicate your analysis to others.


Need Help?

It’s ok to ask for it! I understand that you may not have studied this subject before. If you have any difficulties with the readings, assignments, lectures, or any other aspects of the course, let me know and I will be happy to help you – that is what I am here for. You should feel free to email me and I will answer any questions that you have. Also, if you have a question during a lecture or tutorial section, go ahead and ask me there and then; other students in the class may have the same question and you might be helping them too!

Online Contingency Plans

As things stand at the beginning of semester, the university has decided that we should offer courses online rather than in person on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the time being, this means that all lectures and tutorials will be held via Zoom. I will provide log-in details on the Blackboard course website.

We hope it will be possible to return to in-person classes later in the semester, though we cannot make any guarantees. I will update you on the relevant details if and when this happens.



Course Schedule

8 Sep

1. Introduction: What Is the Middle East?

Michael E. Bonine, Abbas Amanat, and Michael E. Gasper (edd.), Is There a Middle East? The Evolution of a Geopolitical Concept (Stanford, 2011), Introduction: ‘Is There a Middle East? Problematizing a Virtual Space;’ Conclusion: ‘There Is a Middle East!’

15 Sep

2. Rome and Persia at the End of Antiquity

Procopius, History of the Wars 1.17–22:

Henning Börm, ‘A Threat or a Blessing? The Sassanians and the Roman Empire,’ in Diwan. Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean (Duisburg, 2016), 615–32.

Beate Dignas and Engelbert Winter, Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity. Neighbours and Rivals (Cambridge, 2007), ch. 5: ‘Arabia between the Great Powers.’

22 Sep

3. Islam and the Religious World of the Middle East

The Holy Quran, surahs 12 (Joseph/Yusuf), 19 (Mary/Maryam), 30 (The Romans):

Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam (Cambridge, MA, 2010), ch. 2: ‘Muhammad and the Believers’ Movement.’

29 Sep

4. The Rise of the Caliphate

Theophanes Confessor, The Chronicle of Theophanes, trans. Cyril Mango and Roger Scott (Oxford, 1982), 466–497.

Wadad Kadi and Aram A. Shahin, ‘Caliph, Caliphate,’ in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought (Princeton, NJ, 2013), 81–86.

Gerald R. Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate, A.D. 661–750, 2nd ed. (London, 2000) ch. 1: ‘The Importance of the Umayyad Period and its Place in Islamic History.’

Tutorial 1 (Weeks 1–3)

6 Oct

5. Culture and Learning in the Caliphate

Ibn al-Nadim, Kitab al-Fihrist, trans. Bayard Dodge (New York, 1970), 571–586.

Dimitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early Abbasid Society (London, 1998), Introduction, Epilogue.

Jonathan Bloom, Paper before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (New Haven, 2001), ch. 3: ‘Paper and Books.’

13 Oct

6. Fragmentation and Subversion

Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Iftitah al-Da‘wa, trans. Hamid Haji (London, 2006), 205–213, 230–236.

Christine D. Baker, Medieval Islamic Sectarianism (Leeds, 2019), ch. 3: ‘The Fatimids and Isma‘ili Shi‘ism in North Africa.’

Andrew C.S. Peacock, The Great Seljuk Empire (Edinburgh, 2015), ch. 3: ‘Sovereignty, Legitimacy and the Contest with the Caliphate.’

20 Oct

7. The Crusades

Five Versions of the Speech at the Council of Clermont (1095):

Usamah ibn Munqidh, Kitab al-It‘tibar, trans. Philip K. Hitti (New York, 2000), 161–170.

Niall Christie, Muslims and Crusaders: Christianity’s Wars in the Middle East, 1095–1382, from the Islamic Sources (London, 2014), ch. 3: ‘The First Crusade and the Muslim Response, 1095–1146;’ ch. 6: ‘War and Peace in the Twelfth-Century Levant.’

Tutorial 2 (Weeks 4–6, Midterm Essay)

27 Oct

8. The Mongols and the End of the Abbasid Caliphate

Ata-Malik Juvaini, The History of the World Conqueror, Vol. I, trans. John A. Boyle (Cambridge, MA, 1958), 3–19.

Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion (New Haven, 2017), ch. 12: ‘The Onset of Islamization (a).’

Bruno De Nicola, ‘The Role of the Domestic Sphere in the Islamisation of the Mongols,’ in Islamisation: Comparative Perspectives from History (Edinburgh, 2017), 353–376.

Midterm Essay Due

3 Nov

9. The Middle East and Global Trade

Janet Lippmann Abu-Lughod, ‘The World System in the Thirteenth Century: Dead-End or Precursor?’ In Islamic and European Expansion: The Forging of a Global Order (Philadelphia, 1993), 84–95.

Patricia Risso, Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean (Boulder, CO, 1995), ch. 3: ‘Merchants of Faith in the Middle Era, Circa 1050–1500.’

John Chaffee, ‘Diasporic Identities in the Historical Development of the Maritime Muslim Communities of Song-Yuan China,’ Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 49.4 (2006): 395–420.

10 Nov

10. Byzantium and the Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Michael Kritoboulos, History of Mehmed the Conqueror, trans. Charles T. Riggs (Princeton, NJ, 1954), 9–18, 60–89.

Speros Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh to the Fifteenth Century (Berkeley, CA, 1986), ch. 8: ‘Recapitulation.’

Hasan Çolak, ‘Tekfur, fasiliyus and kayser: Disdain, Negligence and Appropriation of Byzantine Imperial Titulature in the Ottoman World,’ in Frontiers of the Ottoman Imagination: Studies in Honour of Rhoads Murphey (Leiden, 2014), 5–24.

Tutorial 3 (Weeks 7–9)

17 Nov

11. ‘Gunpowder Empires’: Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals

Douglas E. Streusand, Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Boulder, CO, 2011), ch. 1: ‘Introduction;’ ch. 2: ‘Common Heritage, Common Dilemma.’

Rohan D’souza, ‘Crisis before the Fall: Some Speculations on the Decline of the Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals,’ Social Scientist 30.9/10 (2002): 3–30.

24 Nov

12. Religion, Culture, and Politics in the Ottoman Empire

Mary Wortley Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters (Peterborough, ON, 2013), Letters 26, 28, 36–38, 42.

Karen Barkey, Empire of Differences: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, 2008), ch. 4: ‘Maintaining an Empire: An Expression of Tolerance.’

1 Dec

13. Epilogue: From Imperialism to Nationalism

Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (Cambridge, 2005), ch. 4: ‘The Nineteenth Century.’

Howard Eissenstat, ‘Modernization, Imperial Nationalism, and the Ethnicization of Confessional Identity in the Late Ottoman Empire,’ in Nationalizing Empires (Budapest, 2015), 429–460.

Tutorial 4 (Weeks 10–12, Final Essay)

21 Dec

Final Essay Due


Assessment & Assignments

Assessment Overview

Your performance in the course will be assessed on the cumulative basis of different types of assignment (described in more detail below) and your attendance. There will not be an exam or quiz component. The weighting of the different factors is as follows:

Final Essay 30%
Midterm Essay  20%
Reading Summaries  20%
Discussion Participation  20%
Attendance  10%

Your final letter grade will be determined by your overall course percentage. You will not be graded on a curve. Grades will be assigned according to the following set thresholds:

A 90% C+ 65%
A- 85% C 60%
B+ 80% C- 55%
B 75% D 50
B- 70% F >50

Grade Descriptions

A Exceptional: Exceeds expectations. Demonstrates impressive knowledge, clarity, analytical ability, and a firm grasp of course material.
A- Strong: Has most of the qualities of A-grade work but has some minor areas for improvement.
B(+/-) Good: Shows a solid understanding of course material. Has some flaws in writing or argumentation and may contain minor errors or misunderstandings.
C Satisfactory: Demonstrates an acceptable level of knowledge but suffers from lack of clarity, misunderstandings, historical errors, or weak argumentation.
D Unsatisfactory: Achieves the minimum passing grade but fails to meet most expectations of knowledge and argumentation.
F Failed: Does not meet basic expectations of knowledge, understanding, and/or timeliness in submission.

Course Readings

Each week you will be assigned approximately 50–60 pages of reading. This will be a mixture of primary sources and academic literature that explore important aspects of the week’s theme. All required course readings will be posted on the Blackboard course website at the beginning of the semester. You will not need to purchase or acquire any course materials yourself.

For a general introduction to the subject, I can recommend the following (non-compulsory) books, all of which are available in the CUHK library system or online:

Choueiri, Y.M., ed. A Companion to the History of the Middle East. Malden, MA, 2005.

Crone, P. Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World. London, 2015.

Dalrymple, W. From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium. London, 2005.

Goldschmidt Jr, Arthur. A Concise History of the Middle East. Boulder, CO, 2016.

Hitti, P.K. History of the Arabs from the Earliest Times to the Present. London, 1967.

Park, H. Mapping the Chinese and Islamic Worlds: Cross-Cultural Exchange in Pre-Modern Asia. Cambridge, 2012.

Silverstein, A.J. Islamic History: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, 2010.

Reading Summaries

After each lecture, you will complete that week’s readings and then write a short summary (max. 500 words) describing the content of what you have read (both primary sources and secondary literature). This is a reading comprehension exercise that will help to develop your skills in analysing and explaining texts in a short space. Until on-campus classes resume, you should email your reading summaries to me before the start of the next lecture.

For primary sources, you should focus on briefly describing who the author was and what they were writing about. For secondary literature, you should describe both the content of the reading (what it is about) and the author’s central argument. Sample reading summaries will be available on the course Blackboard site to give you a clear idea of what to aim for.

You will only need to write reading summaries for ten out of the thirteen weeks. This means that you get to skip three reading summaries; you can choose which ones.


I will ask you to write two essays during the course: a midterm essay (1,500–2,000 words) due on 27th October and a final essay (2,500–3,000 words) due on 21st December. I will assign the topic of the mid-term essay in week 4 (29th September). For the final essay, I will provide you with a selection of five topics at the end of the lecture in week 11 (17th November). You will choose one of the five topics to write about. Both essays will require you to reflect on the major themes of the course and to use historical examples to make an argument that relates to a significant debate within historical scholarship on the pre-modern Middle East.

The essays should be written to academic standards with a central thesis, reference to primary sources and secondary literature, and appropriate citations in footnotes. You are free to follow any accepted academic citation style such as Chicago, Harvard, or MLA. If you are not sure about how to write citations, I recommend looking at the Chicago Manual of Style quick citation guide:

If you have any questions about either of the essays, let me know and I will be happy to answer.

Assignment Submission, Extensions, and Lateness Penalties

You will be expected to submit your midterm and final essays by 11:59pm on the date specified in the course schedule below by uploading them to the relevant section of the Blackboard course website along with a signed declaration of academic honesty from VeriGuide.

Scheduling conflicts and unforeseen circumstances can sometimes make it difficult to meet deadlines. If you are unable to submit your work on time, please contact me as soon as possible and I will be happy to grant you an extension if you have a legitimate reason to require one.

If you fail to submit work on time and I have not granted you an extension, you will incur a daily lateness penalty of 1 percentage point. For example, if you submit your midterm essay (worth 20%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 20% available; if you submit it 5 days late, you will lose 5 of the 20%, etc. I will not accept any further submissions after 7 days have passed unless I have granted special permission.



Tutorials and Participation

In addition to regular lectures, there will be a total of four tutorial sessions during the semester. These will serve as opportunities for open discussion of the assigned readings and how they relate to the major themes of the course. They will also be a chance to discuss course assignments (particularly the two essays) and for you to ask any questions that you might have. Remember that active participation in class discussions is expected and will be 20% of your overall course grade.

While tutorials make up the bulk of your participation grade, there will also be a discussion element in each week’s lecture. Your participation in lecture discussions will count towards your overall participation score – so don’t be shy!

Attendance and Absences

You are expected to attend all lectures and tutorials. This will comprise 10% of your overall course grade. If you have a valid reason for being absent from a lecture or tutorial (such as a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, or similar), please contact me as soon as possible to ask for permission.


Plagiarism and Academic Ethics

Studying at the university level requires a high standard of professionalism and honesty in your academic work and personal conduct. This falls under the broad category of academic ethics, a matter that the History Department at CUHK takes very seriously. I expect you all to behave in an honest and respectful manner in class and in your assignments. Unethical behaviour, including plagiarism, will not be tolerated. You can find more information on university policy at

If you are unsure about the definition of plagiarism or academic ethics, feel free to ask me and I will be happy to discuss it with you in more detail.

Open-Door Hours

I normally open my office door every week from 2 to 5pm on Friday so that anyone can come in and speak to me about anything they want. This is obviously not possible while we are socially distanced because of the pandemic, so I will hold my open-door hours via Zoom instead. If you would like to chat with me about any aspect of the course, your university studies, career development, favourite historical books and movies, or anything else, feel free to drop in. I will provide the Zoom meeting details on the course Blackboard website.

If you would like to talk to me but can’t make it to my open-door hours, just send me an email and we can set up an appointment at a more convenient time.

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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