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Social and Cultural History of the Middle East: the Ottoman Empire (1300-1922)


Admission Requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research), the MA International Relations, the MA History, or another relevant MA. While it is an asset to have proficient reading skills in Ottoman and modern Turkish, Arabic and Persian (level B2 European Common Framework), students with little or no knowledge of these languages, but with an interest in and some familiarity with the history and culture of the Middle East (approximately 30 EC worth of relevant courses at BA or MA level) are highly encouraged to take this course. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who do not fulfill the admission requirements are requested to contact Dr. H. Theunissen well in time before the start of the semester. They may be asked to read extra literature in preparation for the course.

The number of places available in this course are limited. Therefore, read the information below under registration carefully.


This course is designed to familiarize students with select topics, debates, and sources in the study of history and culture of the Middle East in the Ottoman period. As one of the most important Eurasian states that survived from medieval to modern times, the Ottoman Empire constitutes an integral component of Europe and Middle East. There is a vast literature produced in a host of languages on various aspects of Ottoman history and culture. Given the wide scope of topics and chronology that may fall under the study of the Ottoman world, the thematic and temporal outlook of this seminar will be selective, and greater precedence will be given to the growing field of Ottoman social and cultural history. Please be advised that this seminar will not provide a mere chronological narrative of Ottoman political and institutional history. Yet the gradually changing nature of the Ottoman polity, society, and culture will be strongly emphasized to escape from essentialist and ahistorical assessment of the Ottoman experiences.
Each week we will discuss a particular theme and the current state of scholarship on the relevant topic. In addition we will reflect upon primary sources for the study of Ottoman history and culture. Themes are: Periodization & Historiography, Islamization & Sunnitization, Architecture & Patronage, Gender & Power, Morality & Sexuality, Natural Disasters & Plagues, Migration & Labour, Public Space & Public Order, Women in the Late Ottoman Period, and Modernization, Ideology & Architecture.

Course objectives

  • to become thoroughly acquainted with the current state of scholarship on various aspects of the history and culture of the Middle East in the Ottoman period,

  • to become familiar with the main reference works used in the study of the Ottoman world,

  • to gain familiarity with primary sources needed to do research in Ottoman studies,

  • to develop the ability to analyze and evaluate scholarship and/or sources for the purpose of formulating a scholarly argument,

  • to develop the ability to report on research findings both orally and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of historical scholarship.



Mode of Instruction

Seminar: After an introduction to the topic by the convener students will give presentations based on the assigned readings. The presentations are followed by discussion. Attendance and active participation are obligatory for each session. The convenor needs to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours 280 hours
participation in courses: 13 x 3 hs 39 hours
readings and preparation for classes 110 hours
preparing 3 essays 30 hours
preparation presentation and final essay 101 hours

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

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

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Active Participation in Group Discussion and Oral Presentations (based on the assigned reading materials) 25%
3 Response Essays on Assigned Readings 15%
Final Paper and Oral Presentation (individual research project) 60%

Response Essays on Assigned Readings
The purpose of the response essays is to enable students to critically engage with the arguments presented in the assigned readings. The length of each paper is c. 1000 words. Students will be free to write their response essays on any week of their choice, provided that the paper is turned in before the meeting of that week. Response essays should focus on:

  • State of the art of the study of subject and (revisionist?) arguments of the authors of the readings.

  • Theoretical-methodological framework and research questions of the readings

  • Primary sources analysed in the readings (leading to argument of the author).

Final Paper and Oral Presentation
Students are expected to produce a term paper of c. 4000 words, that deals with a central question on Ottoman history and culture, and addresses it in the light of modern studies and/or available primary source materials. Students are advised to start thinking about their individual project and contact the instructor as early as possible. By Week 7, students will hand in a one-page project proposal along with a preliminary bibliography. The last meeting(s) of the class will be reserved for student presentations of final projects. These in-class presentations are crucial to enable students to receive feedback from both their classmates and the instructor before submitting the final version of their papers. The overall grade for the final project will be evaluated on the basis of the quality of the written work and student’s performance in presentation sessions.

On this page you will find more information on relevant sources.

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher AND the final paper should be 5.50 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), the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper and the final version of the paper was submitted on time, a re-sit of the paper is possible. In that case the convenor of the course will assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.

inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.



Reading List

A detailed list of weekly readings will be handed out in the first class. The following (general) textbooks are recommended to gain familiarity with Ottoman history and culture:

  • Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

  • Suraiya Faroqhi, Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire (London: I.B. Tauris, 2000).

  • Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).


Students MA Middle Eastern Studies

  • Students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies who have been enrolled in the MA programme in September 2019 or earlier can register through uSis starting from 1 December. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served.

  • A number of places has been reserved for students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies who will start in February 2020, including those coming from a Leiden BA programme. They are kindly requested to fill out the form on the right side of the MA MES page and send it in as soon as possible and Friday, January 31 at the latest to the study coordinator. Make sure you mention in the subject line “MA MES, [your name, student ID number]”.

Students MA Middle Eastern Studies (research)

  • For students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) ar the principles mentioned above for students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies apply.

Students from other MA programmes

  • Students from the other MA programmes should send an email to the Student advisor mentioning the course title, their name and their student ID number in the subject line. If they are admitted, they will be enrolled for the course by January 31 at the latest.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on uSis in Dutch and English.
To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr.”. You can also have a look at the FAQ. (Tip: use the search term “uSis”.)

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dhr. H. Theunissen


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.