Primary source collections
Middle East Politics and Diplomacy, 1904-1950, the Papers of Sir Ronald Storrs
Maintained by Pembroke College, Cambridge, this collection of digitized microfilms and manuscripts are from the correspondence of Sir Ronald Storrs, an official in the British Foreign and Colonial Office, as well as the Oriental Secretary in Cairo, Military Governor in Jerusalem, Governor or Cypress, and Governor of Northern Rhodesia.
Neglected Arabia/Arabia Calling
This collection includes a complete run of the journal of the Arabian Mission of the Reformed Church in America 1892-1962 comprising: Field Reports 1892-1898; Quarterly Reports 1898-1901; Neglected Arabia 1902-1949; Arabia Calling 1949-1962; Annual Reports.
Records of the Kurds: Territory, Revolt and Nationalism, 1831-1979
These nine thousand pages of facsimile documents trace early insurgencies directed by the Kurdish people against regional and metropolitan powers, and their interrelations with neighboring tribes and other ethnic groups at historical flash points, from the origins of nationalist sentiments through a series of disparate revolts in the nineteenth century, and then on to a larger, more cohesive and discernible nationalist movement launched in the aftermath of World War I.
Extracted primary sources
Joseph Hume, “On the Policy of England towards the Porte and Mohamed Ali,” UK House of Commons speech (1840)
In this speech, British MP Joseph Hume implores the Crown and Parliament to act carefully but swiftly in Egypt, where Mohamed Ali, an Ottoman military commander and self-declared khedive of Egypt and Sudan, threatened to break away from the Ottoman Empire and establish an entirely sovereign kingdom.
Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916)
Also called the Asia Minor Agreement, this was a secret agreement made during World War I between Great Britain and France, with the assent of imperial Russia, for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. The agreement led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French- and British-administered areas.
Balfour Declaration (1917)
The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government during World War I announcing it’s support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a minority Jewish population.
T.E. Lawrence, “27 Articles” (1917)
Lawrence summarized his approach to Arab warfare in his Twenty Seven Articles in 1917, in which he outlined the principles which would assist other British officers to work effectively with Arab Bedouin, as he had done in years prior.
Anglo-French Joint Statement of Aims in Syria and Mesopotamia (1918)
In this joint statement, the French and British empires declare their support for “native governments and administrations in Syria and Mesopotamia” in resisting Turkish (Ottoman) imperial rule and regaining sovereignty.
Pact of the League of Arab States (1945)
Also known as the Charter of the Arab League, this pact is the founding treaty of the Arab League. Concluded in 1945, the agreement endorses the principle of an Arab homeland while respecting the sovereignty of the individual member states.
Golani, Motti, The End of the British Mandate for Palestine, 1948: The Diary of Sir Henry Gurney, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan (1948, pub. 2009)
Henry Gurney was the last Chief Secretary of the Mandate Government of Palestine. From mid-March to mid-May 1948, at his HQ in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, he wrote his diary under fire from Jews and Arabs alike, with both groups taking aim at the British Administration as the Mandate drew to a close and the country spiraled into violence.
Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism (1959)
In his second major work, Martiniquais philosopher and revolutionary Frantz Fanon discusses the causes of the Algerian War. Fanon focuses on the potential for massive political and cultural change when the colonized reject the authority of their oppressors.
Articles and essays
Branche, Raphaelle, “Sexual Violence in the Algerian War,” in Dagmar Herzog (ed.) Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
In this essay, Branche documents the pervasiveness (and pervasive acceptance within the French military) of rapes of Algerian women, both of women held in detention camps and of civilian women assaulted in their homes and on the streets. Unlike torture, rape was not officially permitted, nor did it serve any military purpose beyond terrorizing the local population. Nonetheless, rape was widespread, and Branche looks at this ubiquity both from the point of view of assumptions prevailing in France at that time about ‘normal’ male heterosexuality and in the context of Algerain Muslim and Kabyle conceptions of female sexual honor.
Connelly, Matthew, “Taking off the Cold War Lens: Visions of North-South Conflict During the Algerian War for Independence,” American Historical Review 105, 3 (2000).
In this precursor to his A Diplomatic Revolution, Connelly seeks to demonstrate how postcolonial studies and diplomatic history could engage in a more constructive dialogue if the ongoing critique of orientalism were to recover its original focus on the exercise of state power. Connelly seeks to make sense of the relationship between state power and decision-making and cultural representation.
Di-Capua, Yoav, “Arab Existentialism: An Invisible Chapter in the Intellectual History of Decolonization,” The American Historical Review 117, 4 (2012).
In this essay, Di-Capua explores the forgotten history of Arab existentialism and the role this philosophical movement played in the decolonization of the Middle East during the mid-twentieth century. Di-Capua argues for the essentiality of not only Arab existentialism in local and regional decolonization, but the importance of intellectual history in the study of decolonization in general.
El Shakry, Omnia, “‘History without Documents’: The Vexed Archives of Decolonization in the Middle East,” The American Historical Review 120, 3 (2015).
El Shakry provides some instruction for scholars of the Middle East on how to overcome the obstacle of writing “histories without documents.” El Shakry discusses the various challenges of material inaccessibility and provides alternative methods of research.
Khalili, Laleh, “The Location of Palestine in Global Counterinsurgencies,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42, 3 (2010).
Khalili addresses the concept of horizontal circuits, through which colonial policing or “security” practices have been transmitted across time or from one location to another, with Palestine functioning as a point of origin or continuation of these practices. Khalili makes a convincing case for the strategic positioning of Palestine in the spread of colonial policing techniques.
Labelle, Maurice, “De-Coca-Colonizing Egypt: Globalization, Decolonization, and the Egyptian Boycott of Coca-Cola, 1966-68,” Journal of Global History, 9, 1 (March 2014): 122-142.
This article explores the de-coca-colonization of post-independence Egypt. The Coca-Cola Company’s reluctance to revoke its commercial extension into Israel obliged the Egyptian government to reject the multinational corporation’s discourse of development, view Coke as a political threat, vote in favor of an Arab League boycott, and ultimately close its borders to Coca-Cola. By doing so, the Cairo government did not reject either cultural globalization or economic modernization, nor was it disconnected from the global flow of capital, people, ideas, and goods, but it chose to concentrate its support on one of these processes: decolonization.
McDougall, James, “Savage Wars? Codes of Violence in Algeria, 1830s-1990s,” Third World Quarterly 26, 1 (2005).
Political violence in Algeria has often been accounted for only by recourse to caricatures of a society supposedly ‘intensely violent’ by nature, or else rationalized as the product of a peculiar political culture and national historical experience. Departing from both approaches, this article suggests that different occurrences of both state and non-state violence must be understood as particular, distinct moments in both the recomposition and breakdown of inherently conflictual social relations.
Sinanoglou, Penny, “British Plans for the Partition of Palestine, 1929-1938,” The Historical Journal 53 (2009).
A close analysis of dialogues over territorial division and of preliminary partition plans leads to the conclusion that Britain’s focus on the ideal of representative government played a primary role in the development of partition proposals. Sinanoglou argues that inter-ethnic violence played a much smaller role in the development of partition proposals than has been previously thought. Instead, partition was proposed as a solution to the political implications of non-representative government in Palestine.
Stafford, Andy, “Tricontinentalism in Recent Moroccan Intellectual History: The Case of Soufflés,” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 7, 3 (2009).
The 1960s phenomenon of tricontinentalism, originating in Havana in 1966, had its strongest politico-artistic impact on the African side of the Atlantic in Morocco. We can trace this through the avant-garde journal Souffles, published in Rabat between 1966 and 1972. The intellectual space that Souffles came to dominate lay at the crossroads of different anti-colonial ideologies: both Arabist and keen to promote Berber culture; both Moroccan and Maghrebi as it called for a new culture in North Africa; both pan-Africanist and pan-Arabist; and exhibiting signs of ‘Maoisant’ Marxism to boot.
Turshen, Meredith, “Algerian Women in the Liberation Struggle and the Civil War: From Active Participants to Passive Victims?,” Social Research 69, 3 (2002).
In this article, Turshen explores and compares the complicated fates of Algerian women who participated in the War for Independence in the 1950s and the Algerian Civil War in 1991. Turshen compares and contrasts women’s identity and agency during these two violent periods in Algerian history, illuminating how opportunities for decolonization brought both liberation and oppression for Algerian women.
Book and readers
Alon, Yoav, The Shaykh of Shaykhs: Mithqal al-Fayiz and Tribal Leadership in Modern Jordan, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016.
Shaykh Mithqal al-Fayiz’s life spanned a period of dramatic transformation in the Middle East. In following Mithqal’s remarkable life, this book explores tribal leadership in the modern Middle East more generally. The support of Mithqal’s tribe to the Jordanian Hashemite regime extends back to the creation of Jordan in 1921 and has characterized its political system ever since. The long-standing alliances between tribal elites and the royal family explain, to a large extent, the extraordinary resilience of Hashemite rule in Jordan and the country’s relative stability.
Belli, Meriam, An Incurable Past: Nasser’s Egypt Then and Now, Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013. This book is a history of vernacular experiences of the 1950s and 1960s in Egypt. It focuses on schooling, conflict, and spirituality and discusses the political and cultural legacy of the Nasser years in today’s Egypt. At the same time, Mériam Belli reflects on the transformations brought about by the ’52 revolution in civic culture, in concepts of state and nation, in nationalist ideology in post-1950s Egypt, and in the development of religious ethno-nationalism in post-1970s Egypt.
Bier, Laura, Revolutionary Womanhood: Feminisms, Modernity and the State in Nasser’s Egypt, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.
The first major historical account of gender politics during the Nasser era, this book analyzes feminism as a system of ideas and political practices, international in origin but local in iteration. Drawing connections between the secular nationalist projects that emerged in the 1950s and the gender politics of Islamism today, Laura Bier reveals how discussions about education, companionate marriage, and enlightened motherhood, as well as veiling, work, and other means of claiming public space created opportunities to reconsider the relationship between modernity, state feminism, and postcolonial state-building.
Byrne, Jeffrey, Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization and the Third World Order, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016.
This book traces the ideological and methodological evolution of the Algerian Revolution, showing how an anticolonial nationalist struggle culminated in independent Algeria’s ambitious agenda to reshape not only its own society, but international society too. In this work, Jeffrey James Byrne first examines the changing politics and international strategies of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) during its war with France, including the embrace of more encompassing visions of “decolonization” that necessitated socio-economic transformation on a global scale along Marxist/Leninist/Fanonist/Maoist/Guevarian lines.
Connelly, Matthew, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Unlike the wars in Korea and Vietnam, Algeria’s fight for independence has rarely been viewed as an international conflict. Connelly argues instead that the war the Algerians fought did indeed occupy a world stage, one in which the U.S. and the USSR, Israel and Egypt, Great Britain, Germany, and China all played key roles. Recognizing the futility of confronting France in a purely military struggle, the Front de Libération Nationale instead sought to exploit the Cold War competition and regional rivalries, the spread of mass communications and emigrant communities, and the proliferation of international and non-governmental organizations.
Davis, Muriam Haleh (ed.), The Afterlives of the Algerian Revolution, Special Issue of JadMag, 2, 1 (Spring 2014).
This publication interrogates Algerian history since 1962 and considers how the revolution unleashed multiple socio-political dynamics that continue to mark contemporary Algeria. These articles demonstrate that the revolution was not merely a historical bookmark, but rather produced repertoires of contestations, ideas about a “social contract,” and served as the basis for legitimacy that could be later “confiscated.”
Devji, Faisal, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.
Devji focuses on the ethical content of Osama bin Laden’s and Al-Qaeda’s jihad against America and the West, as opposed to its purported political intent. Devji contends that Al-Qaeda, with its decentralized structure and emphasis on moral rather than political action, differs radically from such groups as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah (which aim to establish fundamentalist Islamic states), and actually has more in common with multinational corporations, antiglobalization activists, and environmentalist and social justice organizations.
Di-Capua, Yoav, Gatekeepers of the Arab Past: Historians and History Writing in Twentieth-Century Egypt, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009.
The first comprehensive analysis of a Middle Eastern intellectual tradition, this book examines a system of knowledge that replaced the intellectual and methodological conventions of Islamic historiography only at the very end of the nineteenth century. Covering more than one hundred years of mostly unexamined historical literature in Arabic, Di-Capua explores Egyptian historical thought, examines the careers of numerous critical historians, and traces this tradition’s uneasy relationship with colonial forms of knowledge as well as with the post-colonial state.
Dueck, Jennifer, The Claims of Culture at Empire’s End: Syria and Lebanon Under French Rule, London, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.
This volume asks fundamental questions about the political impact of cultural institutions by exploring the power struggles for control over such institutions in Syria and Lebanon under French Mandate rule. Countering assertions of French imperial cultural ascendancy and self-confidence, the author demonstrates the diverse capacities of Arab and other local communities, to forge competing cultural identities that would, in later years, form the basis for rising political self-enfranchisement.
Fletcher, Robert, British Imperialism and ‘The Tribal Question’: Desert Administration and Nomadic Societies in the Middle East, 1919-1936, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.
This book reconstructs the history of Britain’s presence in the deserts of the interwar Middle East, making the case for its significance to scholars of imperialism and of the region’s past. It tells the story of what happened when the British Empire and Bedouin communities met on the desert frontiers between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. It traces the workings of the resulting practices of ‘desert administration’ from their origins in the wake of one World War to their eclipse after the next, as British officials, Bedouin shaykhs, and nationalist politicians jostled to influence desert affairs.
Fontaine, Darcie, Decolonizing Christianity: Religion and the End of Empire in France and Algeria, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
This book tells the story of Christians in Algeria who undertook a mission to ‘decolonize the Church’ and ensure the future of Christianity in postcolonial Algeria. But it also recovers the personal aspects of decolonization, as many of these Christians were arrested and tortured by the French for their support of Algerian independence.
Galula, David, Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958 (2nd ed.), Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2006.
In this volume, originally published in 1963, David Galula reconstructs the story of his highly successful command in the district of Greater Kabylia, east of Algiers, at the height of the rebellion, and presents his theories on counterinsurgency and pacification. In the process, he confronts the larger political, psychological, and military aspects of the Algerian war, and provides a context for present-day counterinsurgency operations.
Gregory, Derek, The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley- Blackwell 2004.
In this powerful and passionate critique of the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan and its extensions into Palestine and Iraq, Gregory traces the long history of British and American involvements in the Middle East and shows how colonial power continues to cast long shadows over our own present. Gregory argues that events like the September 11 attacks on the United States and the eruption of the ‘war on terror’ might be treated as extensions of Euro-American colonialism.
Johnson, Jennifer, The Battle for Algeria: Sovereignty, Health Care, and Humanitarianism, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
Johnson reinterprets one of the most violent wars of decolonization: the Algerian War (1954-1962). Johnson argues that the conflict was about who—France or the National Liberation Front (FLN)—would exercise sovereignty of Algeria. The fight between the two sides was not simply a military affair; it also involved diverse and competing claims about who was positioned to better care for the Algerian people’s health and welfare.
Katz, Kimberly, A Young Palestinian’s Diary, 1941-45: The Life of Sami ‘Amr, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2009.
This book provides a new perspective on life in British Mandate Palestine during the last four years of World War II, captured through the eyes of a young civil servant whose rare diary, accompanied by insightful historical commentary, addresses fundamental aspects of the region’s recent history.
Laqueur, Walter and Barry Rubin, The Israel-Arab Reader (7th ed.), New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2008.
In print for forty years, The Israel-Arab Reader is a thorough and up-to-date guide to the continuing crisis in the Middle East. It covers the full spectrum of the Israel-Arab conflict, including a new chapter recounting the Gaza withdrawal, the Hamas election victory, and the Lebanon-Israel War. Featuring a new introduction that provides an overview of the past 115 years of conflict, and arranged chronologically, this comprehensive reference includes speeches, letters, articles, timelines, and reports dealing with all the major interests in the area.
Mansfield, Peter, A History of the Middle East, London, UK: Penguin Books, 2003.
One of the most crucial, volatile, and complex regions of the modern world, the Middle East has long confounded the dreams of conquerors and peacemakers alike. This now-classic book, fully updated to 2012, follows the historic struggles of the Middle East from Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and Syria, through the slow decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of Islam and its recent resurgence.
Mitchell, Timothy, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.
This collection of essays explores the way malaria, sugar cane, war, and nationalism interacted to produce the techno-politics of the modern Egyptian state; the forms of debt, discipline, and violence that founded the institution of private property; the methods of measurement, circulation, and exchange that produced the novel idea of a national “economy”; the stereotypes and plagiarisms that created the scholarly image of the Egyptian peasant; and the interaction of social logics, horticultural imperatives, powers of desire, and political forces that turned programs of economic reform in unanticipated directions.
Qandil, Hazem, Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt, Verso Books, 2012.
One of the most momentous events in the Arab uprisings that swept across the Middle East in 2011 was the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. As dramatic and sudden as this seemed, it was only one further episode in an ongoing power struggle between the three components of Egypt’s authoritarian regime: the military, the security services, and the government. A detailed study of the interactions within this invidious triangle over six decades of war, conspiracy, and sociopolitical transformation, this ook is the first systematic analysis of recent Egyptian history.
Robson, Laura, Colonialism and Christianity in Mandate Palestine, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011.
Drawing on a rich base of British archival materials, Arabic periodicals, and secondary sources, this book brings to light the ways in which the British colonial state in Palestine exacerbated sectarianism. By transforming Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious identities into legal categories, Robson argues, the British ultimately marginalized Christian communities in Palestine. Robson explores the turning points that developed as a result of such policies, many of which led to permanent changes in the region’s political landscapes.
Robson, Laura (ed.), Minorities and the Modern Arab World, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2016.
In the wake of recent upheavals across the Arab world, a simplistic media portrayal of the region as essentially homogenous has given way to a new though equally shallow portrayal, casting it as deeply divided along ethnic, linguistic, and religious lines. The essays gathered in this reader seek to challenge this representation with a nuanced exploration of the ways in which ethnic, religious, and linguistic commitments have intersected to create “minority” communities in the modern era.
Robson, Laura, States of Separation: Transfer, Partition, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2017.
Across the Middle East in the post–World War I era, European strategic moves converged with late Ottoman political practice and a newly emboldened Zionist movement to create an unprecedented push to physically divide ethnic and religious minorities from Arab Muslim majorities. This book tells how the interwar Middle East became a site for internationally sanctioned experiments in ethnic separation enacted through violent strategies of population transfer and ethnic partition.
Sharkey, Heather J., Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and the Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.
This book examines the history of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1898-1956) and the Republic of Sudan that followed in order to understand how colonialism worked on the ground, affected local cultures, influenced the rise of nationalism, and shaped the postcolonial nation-state. Relying on a rich cache of Sudanese Arabic literary sources, including poetry, essays, and memoirs, as well as on colonial documents and photographs, this perceptive study examines colonialism from the viewpoint of those who lived and worked in its midst.
Shepard, Todd, The Invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.
In this account of the Algerian War’s effect on French political structures and notions of national identity, Todd Shepard asserts that the separation of Algeria from France was truly a revolutionary event with lasting consequences for French social and political life. Shepard contends that because the amputation of Algeria from the French body politic was accomplished illegally and without explanation, its repercussions are responsible for many of the racial and religious tensions that confront France today.
Trumbull, George, An Empire of Facts: Colonial Power, Cultural Knowledge, and Islam in Algeria, 1870-1914, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
This book presents a fascinating account of the formation of French conceptions of Islam in France’s largest and most important colony. During the period from 1870 to 1914, travelers, bureaucrats, scholars, and writers formed influential and long-lasting misconceptions about Islam that determined the imperial cultural politics of Algeria and its interactions with republican France.
Vaughan, James R., Unconquerable Minds: The Failure of American and British Propaganda in the Arab Middle East, 1945-57, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Using recently declassified sources, this book provides the first detailed analysis of British and American propaganda targeting the countries of the Middle East during the years of increasing international tension and regional instability immediately following the end of the Second World War. Considering British and American propaganda within the framework of the Cold War crusade against Communism and the Soviet Union, and the developing confrontations between Arab nationalism and the West, the book investigates the central questions of Anglo-American partnership and rivalry in the period when primary responsibility for ‘policing’ the Middle East passed from one to the other.
Vince, Natalya, Our Fighting Sisters: Nation, Memory, and Gender in Algeria, 1954-2012, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2015.
Between 1954 and 1962, Algerian women played a major role in the struggle to end French rule in one of the twentieth century’s most violent wars of decolonization. This is the first in-depth exploration of what happened to these women after independence in 1962. Based on new oral history interviews with women who participated in the war in a wide range of roles, from urban bombers to members of the rural guerrilla support network, it explores how female veterans viewed the post-independence state and its multiple discourses on ‘the Algerian woman’ in the fifty years following 1962.
Von Bismarck, Helene, British Policy in the Persian Gulf, 1961-1968: Conceptions of Informal Empire, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
This book is and in-depth analysis of Great Britain’s policy in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region during the last years of British imperialism in the area, covering the period from the independence of Kuwait to the decision of the Wilson Government to withdraw from the Gulf.
Weizman, Eyal, The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza, Verso Books, 2012.
The notion of a humanitarian “lesser evil” has become instrumental in justifying the West’s military adventures. It informs obscene calculations determining how much collateral damage is permissible in conflict. Weizman argues that this can be seen in particular in the regime imposed upon Gaza by the state of Israel. Examining the damage following the 2010 bombardment, he pieces together the systematic process of destruction, revealing the political atrocity within the debris.