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The Middle East in the 20th Century: local actors and great power politics


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Humanities Lab
If you have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year, your academic results are good and you are a very motivated student, you may apply for a place in the Humanities Lab.


The course looks at the way the great powers of Europe (and later the USA) have interacted with the nation states of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century. The story starts with the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after it had become involved in World War I as a partner of one European power, Germany. It will then look at the period when large parts of the Middle East were run by France and Britain as “mandates” and the position of the Middle East in World War II. The Middle East will not just be presented as a playground for the great powers. The way communities and states in the area manipulated the powers to attain their ends will be equally important. The relationships can be envisaged as quadrilinear: between the great powers, between each of the great powers and their respective local clients and between the states of the region. All sides of this quadrangle will receive attention.

Course objectives

Achieving an understanding of the dynamics of the interaction between nation-states and external powers in the Middle East in the 20th century. Acquiring the ability to use this understanding to tackle a specific research question in this field and answer it cogently and persuasively, with reference to the state of the art of the literature and making use of primary source materials.


The lecture is scheduled on thursday afternoon for the exact timetable, please visit the timetable website

The seminar is scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.15 to 15.00h. For the exact timetable, please visit the timetable website

If you are not able to attend the lecture due to a conflict in your timetable, you can watch the recorded lecture via Blackboard. The lecture will be available the same day. Please note that you have to watch the lecture before the seminar on Friday.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 5 EC x 28 hours= 140 hours

  • Lectures: 13

  • Preparation tutorials: 12

  • Study of compulsory literature: 50

  • Assignment(s): 39

  • Tutorials: 26

Assessment method

Participation (including questions uploaded onto Blackboard) : 50%
Term paper of 2500 words: 50%
Resit: written exam 100%


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursion). If you are unable to attend due to circumstances beyond your control, notify the Humanities Lab office in advance, providing a valid reason for your absence, and hand in your weekly assignment in writing to the lecturer (if applicable). Being absent without notification and valid reason may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.


Yes, Blackboard will be used for: to upload the questions on the week’s reading that each student is to provide. Also to make available the readings that have been set for the week, if copyright restrictions allow this.

Reading list

We will work on the basis of a reading list put on Blackboard.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered via uSis by the administration of the Humanities Lab.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Instructor: Dhr. Prof. Dr. E.J. Zürcher
Humanities Lab office: e-mail