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Oral History of the Middle East


Admission requirements

This class is intended (in order of preference) for:

  • Students of the BA Middle Eastern Studies/track Modern Middle East who have successfully completed the propedeutic exam;

  • Premaster students for the MA Middle Eastern Studies;

  • Students of the BA Middle Eastern Studies/other tracks

  • Students from other programmes. Please contact the coordinator of studies, Eli van Duijnen, to find out whether you can be admitted to this class.


What relevance do historical events have, unless they impact on the everyday lives of people? This course is based on the premise that the study of Middle East history is incomplete when the human perspective is overlooked. The course centres on human experience of historical events in the Middle East region through employment of the method of oral history. Focusing on four localities in the region (Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Hebrew speaking), this course invites students to, first, become acquainted with the way particular historical developments are narrated in scholarly work. In preparing a literature review presentation about this, students answer the questions: What happened, what were the direct and indirect casues, and what was the social-political impact of these events? Second, students themselves engage in an oral history project through which they aim to uncover the human experiences of historical events through empathic listening. They ask the question: How did the event under study impact on the lives of the interviewees? Students write transcripts of their interviews and work together in groups to compare and combine respondents’ individual stories. Last, by combining the first (literature review) and second step (oral history), in the final stage of their project, students write a research paper reflecting an inclusive understanding of particular historical developments. They will have moved their awareness of these events beyond knowledge and understanding to include empathic human connection.

Students who have knowledge of regional languages are encouraged to use these in their projects. Students who do not have this knowledge are advised to chose a topic that allows for interviews in a non-regional language (English, Dutch, French or other).

Course objectives

After completion of this course, students:

  • have deep understanding of a specific historical episode in recent Middle East history;

  • are familiar with the field of oral history;

  • have improved their skill in writing literature reviews;

  • have developed interviewing and empathic listening skills;

  • have developed their presentation skills;

  • have gained experience in teamwork;

  • can combine historiographic methods into a limited but comprehensive analysis of a historical event.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The course is offered as part of a full-time program of studies, and therefore work commitments, holidays, or overseas travel do not constitute valid reasons for absence. The lecturer should be informed in writing of any classes to be missed for a valid reason (i.e., due to unforeseen circumstances that are beyond the student’s control, such as documented illness, family bereavement, problems with residence permits, victim of crime, or railway delays). In case of a justified absence, it is up to the Lecturer to decide whether the missed class should be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Please note that you are required to provide documentation that supports your case for absence where possible. Absence without notification and approval could result in a grade deduction, or in work not being marked and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity.
Plagiarism will not be tolerated. It is assumed that students' work is their own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). Students may not substantially reuse any work 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.
Assignment(s) must be submitted to Brightspace through Turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.


  • Two group presentations: 25% each

  • Term paper (individual): 50%

Students are required to upload their practical work on Brightspace (pass/fail):

  • An interview recording

  • A transcript of the interview

  • Fieldnotes (see “assignments” for the different lectures)


In order to establish the final mark, determined by the weighted average, students first need to obtain a pass for their practical work.


A resit is available only to students whose final mark was insufficient (5.49 or lower). They rewrite their term paper which will count for 100%.

Inspection and feedback

Students will receive feedback on their presentations, which they will use to write their term paper.

Reading list

  • Doing Oral History by Donald A. Ritchie, available online through the digital library.

  • Journal articles (t.b.a.)


  • Students of the BA Middle Eastern Studies, track Modern Middle East: Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.

  • Premaster students starting in 22-23: will be enrolled by the Education Administration Office de Vrieshof. Further information on availability and the enrolment procedure will be provided by email in July.

  • Students from other programmes: on availability, please contact the coordinator of studies, Eli van Duijnen,after August, 15


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: De Vrieshof.