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Culture and Society in the Medieval Muslim World


Admission requirements

Admission to (one of) the programme(s) listed under Part of in the information bar on the right.
If you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of (one of) the listed programme(s), please contact the Education coordinator.

If you are interested in taking this course but you are not a student of one of the above-mentioned MA programmes, please contact the Education Coordinator or Dr. J. Bruning prior to registration.


This course examines the daily life experience of Muslims during the first four centuries of Islamic history, when caliphs ruled from Medina, Damascus and Baghdad respectively. The course focuses on Egypt, one of the Muslim empire’s most prosperous provinces. The course studies the social history of this province through the lense of a unique but largely neglected type of sources that give unfiltered and unpolished insight into these Muslims’ society: their own private letters, administrative documents, legal deeds, and other texts written on papyrus preserved today. Students will study these texts (in their original language or in translation) in great detail. The course has two thematic foci, each connected to a major corpus of papyrus documents. In the first block, we will start with studying Egypt as a province in the empires of the Rightly Guided caliphs, the Umayyads and the early Abbasids, discussing such themes as the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the province’s administrative organization, and taxation. In the second block, we will examine Egypt’s economic history during this period by exploring in great detail the archive of a mercantile family. This theme leads to the world of Islamic law and interregional trade networks, slavery and dependency, and poverty and charity.
The course has two connected goals: to deepen the student’s knowledge and experience of the social and economic history of medieval Islam and to familiarise him/her with the written sources of this period. These two academic goals are joined in the work with primary sources, such as documents, manuscripts and inscriptions, which is central to this course.

Course objectives

The objectives of this course are:

  • to become thoroughly acquainted with the historical debate on the social history of medieval Islam;

  • to allow students to develop a strong and detailed understanding of the pertinent primary and secondary sources;

  • to familiarise students with theoretical approaches to the theme and to become acquainted with the tools needed to understand the primary sources (coins, documents, manuscripts) relevant to the study of this period;

  • to help students develop the ability to critically assess prevailing approaches to the subjects covered;

  • to carry out a small research project on a well-defined topic, based on primary source texts;

  • to report on research findings orally (by reading a paper) and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of historical scholarship.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

The assessment consists of the following:

Partial Assessment Weighing
Oral presentation 15%
Participation and assignments 15%
Paper theme 1 (written; ca. 2,000 words) 35%
Paper theme 2 (written; ca. 2,000 words) 35%

The papers are assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Demonstration of knowledge and the use of primary and secondary literature;

  • Presentation and consistency of arguments;

  • Communication: number of words, language, lay-out.

The papers are written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. The deadlines for submission of the first and final versions of the papers will be communicated by the convenor of the course through Brightspace.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of one or two insufficient papers, students are allowed to rewrite one or two papers (70%) in consultation with the convenor of the course. In that case the convener of the course will give a new deadline. A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.

Reading list

Students should sign up before the first class on Brightspace for this course where the reading and assignment for the first class can be found. Students should bring their completed assignment to class.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory for:

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies students: the number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served. Priority is given to students who started with the MA programme in 2023-2024.

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) students who opt for the Research MA version of the course. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Students from the other MA programmes listed under Part of in the information bar on the right, need to contact their study adviser for information on the enrolment procedure. After admission they will be registered by the Education Administration Office Vrieshof.



Please note that the additional course information is an integral part of this course description.