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Culture and Society in the Medieval Muslim World (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or another relevant Research MA. Students from other (regular MA) programmes are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.


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

  • Seminar

Attendance is compulsory for all sessions. Students must prepare well and contribute to in-class discussion. If a student cannot attend because of illness or misadventure, they should promptly inform the convener. Extra assignments may be set to make up for missed class time, at the convener’s discretion. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Academic integrity

Students should familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity and the ways in which this plays out in their own work. A good place to start is this page. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students may not substantially reuse texts they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to Brightspace through Turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

ChatGPT: What is possible and what is allowed? Dos and Don'ts.

Assessment and weighing

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.

Students must complete the assignment(s) on time Late submissions will result in a deduction of marks for the assignment as follows: 1-24 hs late = -0.5; 24-48 hs late = -1.0; 48-72 hs late = -1.5; 72-96 hs late = -2.0. Submissions more than 96 hs late, including weekends, will receive a failing grade of 1,0 for the assignment.

The weighted average forms the final mark for this course. In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (= 6) or higher. The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


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.

Inspection and feedback

Feedback will be supplied primarily through Brightspace. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the assessment results, a review will be organized.

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.
For the Research MA students additional readings will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. Extra sessions will be used to discuss the additional literature.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.