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


Admission requirements

You have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year and your academic results are good (indication: 7,3 average). Students who meet the criteria 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 various communities, networks and 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. Finally, the pivotal role of the Middle East in the Cold War between the superpowers will be considered.

The Middle East will not just be presented as a playground for the great powers. The way various communities, networks and states in the area affected and/or manipulated the powers to attain their ends will be equally important. In other words, much neglected agencies of ‘the Middle Eastern actors’ will be brought into the analysis together with the other factors. The relationships can be envisaged in three distinct categories: 1) between the great powers, 2) between each of the great powers and their respective local clients and 3) between the various actors (states or otherwise).

The course is a combination of lectures and seminars. Teaching materials are primary and secondary texts that are made available for each weekly class.

Course objectives

The students will gain knowledge and insight with respect to the historical and political processes that have made the Middle East what it is today and the dynamics of power politics. In terms of skills, the students learn to read and digest texts on complicated issues and to discuss them in a meaningful way.


Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.00 to 17.00. For the exact timetable, please visit the following website

Mode of instruction

There is a lecture component and a tutorial component. The lecture component is taken jointly with MA-students, and therefore the language of instruction (at least for this component) is English.

Course Load

Total course load 5EC 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%


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

Not applicable


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


More information: website