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Theories and Methods of Middle East and Islamic Studies


Admission requirements



What is historiography? What is the Middle East? Does the historiography of the Middle East display defining characteristics that distinguish it from, for example, European historiography? Can the study and analysis of Middle East historiography reveal as much about Western perspectives of the Middle East as it does about the “actual” history of the region? Using these broad questions as points of departure, this course will survey the Western canon of historical writing on the region we now know as the Middle East. In the process, it will seek to place this body of literature in the context of larger historical and historiographic trends by reviewing major theoretical and methodological developments in the humanities and social sciences, examining their employment in concrete research projects focusing on the Middle East, and analyzing the resulting debates that have ensued within the profession. This course is designed for graduate students who have an interest in the Middle East.

Unit 1: The Orientalism Debate
Unit 2: Social and Labor History
Unit 3: Modernization Theory
Unit 4: Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Unit 5: Role of Nationalism
Unit 6: The Cultural Turn

Course objectives

to develop the skills and insights that are necessary to evaluate existing research and to design and carry out empirical research projects;
to obtain familiarity with the theories developed in social sciences and their application in the study of the Middle East and Islam;
to understand the merits and drawbacks of these theories both in general and in specific cases;
to develop and 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.

Time table

Time table

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

The course consists primarily of discussion of assigned readings and written assignments. One or two students will give short oral presentations consisting of an analytical reflection on, not a summary, of the assigned readings each week to open the discussion. Grading will be based on:

1) Oral participation in class, including presentation(s) (20%)
2) Weekly written reading responses (15%)
3) Film review (10%)
4) An essay on Orientalism and area studies (25%)
5) Final Paper (30%)


Reading list

Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1991.

Omnia El Shakry. The Great Social Laboratory: Subjects of Knowledge in Colonial and Postcolonial Egypt. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

Michel Foucault. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage, 1995.

Zachary Lockman. Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Zachary Lockman. Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Joseph Massad. Desiring Arabs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Rudi Matthee. The Pursuit of Pleasure: Drugs and Stimulants in Iranian History, 1500-1900. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Edward Said. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1994.

(Other selected readings will be available on Blackboard)



Contact information