The Persian Gulf, the states that border it, and the people whose lives are linked to and through it are often the subject of scrutiny and speculation by policymakers, journalists, and economists. These views of the Gulf are inevitably limited, however, and demand the critical application of a wide-ranging historical perspective. This course will treat the Gulf—including the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and Iran, as well as those countries’ transregional links—as an arena with distinct political, economic and social dynamics.
Taking a broadly chronological approach, this course will first examine the Persian Gulf region in the era of modern empires and British supremacy, culminating in the formation of the Gulf states in their modern forms. The subjects we will cover include the region’s different forms of colonialism, the Gulf’s connections with South Asia and East Africa, and the ways that slavery has been discussed (or ignored) in histories of the region’s economy and social life. In the next unit, we will critically examine oil as a social and political agent in the Gulf, rethinking traditional notions of its role in the region’s history by studying trends such as urbanization and growing class inequality. The following unit will consider the influence of broader ideological and political trends in Gulf states as many of them attained independence or experienced political transitions, including territorial nationalisms, pan-Arab nationalism, different forms of Islamism, and leftist movements. Finally, we will analyze the many crises the region has faced since the late 1970s and the complex role of American intervention within them, culminating with the events of the past two decades. We will also discuss the role and significance of the enormous South Asian, Southeast Asian, African, and non-native Arab diasporas in several Gulf states, as well as communities that do not fit easily into rigid ethnic or citizenship rubrics.
By the end of this course, students will:
- Comprehend the dominant themes in the modern history of the Persian Gulf region.
- Be able to articulate confidently the importance of major events and trends in the modern Persian Gulf.
- Exhibit an in-depth understanding of the Gulf’s relationships with nearby and overlapping regions, as well as with imperial and neocolonial powers.
- Gain skills in critical historical thinking and expository writing through participation in discussions and completing writing assignments.’
- Understand how to apply historical perspectives to texts in other disciplines and practices—including literature, journalism, and ethnography.