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Theories and Methods of Middle East and Islamic Studies


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies. Given the number of students admitted to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, this course is not accessible for other students.


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


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:

Students will be graded on the basis of three assignments:

1 Attendance and Participation (40%). This component includes presentations (10%), written summaries of eight (8) of the week’s readings, including questions for discussions (15%), and participation in the general disussions (15%).

2 Short Essay (25%). Each student will submit a 5-7 page paper (1250-1750 words) on one of the weekly assignments. This partial examination may not be rewritten.

3 Paper. Each student will write a 10-12 page (2500-3000 words) analytical paper on a topic to be determined in consultation with the instructor. This component constitutes 35% of the final grade.

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)



Contact information

Dr. T. (Tsolin) Nalbantian

Remarks .