Africa & the Middle East

The African history component of our program focuses on sub-Saharan Africa from approximately 1500 to the present and is mainly designed as a secondary field of graduate study. In the past, graduate students in U.S. and European history (often with interests in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and European colonialism) have done exam fields in African history with an eye towards gaining a non-"Western" teaching competency.

Through seminars, independent studies, and serving as teaching assistants for the department's introductory survey courses in African history, graduate students can develop critical knowledge of precolonial states and societies; religious movements that blended existing beliefs with those of Islam and Christianity; slavery and the trans-Saharan, trans-Atlantic, and Indian Ocean slave trades; European colonialism and its far-reaching consequences; anti-colonial resistance and nationalist politics; and the ongoing challenges of the postcolonial present.

African history complements and links to the comparative history fields of ethnicity and nationalism, colonialism, and gender that engage the research interests of many department faculty. Graduate study in African history is also supported by the African Studies Program in the Jackson School of International Studies and faculty with Africa-related interests in the departments of American Ethnic StudiesAnthropologyArt HistoryEthnomusicologyFrench and ItalianGeographyEnglish, and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. The University of Washington regularly offers courses in the Africa-relevant languages of Arabic, German, Italian, French, Portuguese, and Swahili.

Studies in the Middle East explore the diverse cultural, social, political, economic and material history of a geographic area stretching from North Africa in the West to Iran in the East, from approximately 600 CE to the present. Professor Walker, who specializes in the Ancient and Late Antique Near East, offers a field in early Islamic history. Arbella Bet-Shlimon offers fields in modern Middle Eastern history (19th century to the present) and comparative colonialisms in the modern Middle East.

Associated Faculty

Photo of Arbella Bet-Shlimon

Arbella Bet-Shlimon

Associate Professor, Williams Family Endowed Professor in History
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Modern Middle East: In this field, students will aim to develop general proficiency in the political, social, and economic history of the Middle East—currently conceived as the Arab World, Turkey, and Iran, and more broadly conceived as Southwest Asia and North Africa—from the 19th century to the present. This field will focus on the following topics: nation building, state formation, and associated political discourses; Western colonialism, neocolonialism, and neoimperialism in the Middle East and North Africa; the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire; the formation and influence of key ideologies such as Arab nationalism, Sunni and Shiite Islamisms, and Zionism; wars, diplomacy, and refugee crises; and coups and revolutions. Students are expected to demonstrate familiarity with historiographical trends in the study of the modern Middle East in addition to an understanding of historical events and themes.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)

    Comparative Colonialisms in the Modern Middle East: In this field, students will examine the various forms that colonialism and imperialism have taken in the Middle East (Southwest Asia and North Africa) since the 19th century in comparative perspective. Topics to be covered include: the growth and decline of American, British, French, and Portuguese imperial enterprises in the Middle East; the League of Nations and the mandate system; British protectorates in the Persian Gulf region; empires centered in the Middle East region, such as the Ottoman Empire and Oman; settlements and expulsions; and the development and decline of monarchies.

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Liora Halperin--headshot

Liora Halperin

Professor , Joint Appointment: Jackson School of International Studies
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa and the Middle East

    Students may work with Prof. Halperin to develop a field focused on the history of Modern Israel/Palestine. This field will situate Palestine/Israel within both Middle East and Jewish historiography, with the particular emphasis depending on the student’s research and teaching objectives. It will draw together works in both Israel Studies and Palestine Studies, pertaining to cultural, economic, social, political, and intellectual history.

    Division: Europe, Africa and the Middle East, or Russia

    Students may develop a field with Prof. Halperin on Jewish history during the Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern periods. This can be structured as primarily a Europe or Russia field or as primarily a Middle East field, but will in any case explore interrelations between these fields and, secondarily, between these fields other world regions. This field may examine the evolution of relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims; Jews and the state; forms and challenges of emancipation; commercial networks; cultural, linguistic, and social history; the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism; and Jewish contact with and entanglements with colonial and imperial projects.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)

    Students may develop a field with Prof. Halperin that explores variants of modern colonialism in global perspective; the interplay of colonialism, civic nationalism, and ethnonationalism; the economic history of empire; and the emergence of the field of settler colonial studies.

    Division: Comparative History (Ethnicity and Nationalisms)

    Students may develop a field with Prof. Halperin exploring modern ethnonational movements in comparative perspective with particular emphasis on Europe (including Eastern and South Eastern Europe), the Middle East, and South Asia. This field may integrate readings on language revival efforts, cultural movements, anti-imperial nationalisms, and the emergence of the nation-state system and concepts of autonomy, minority rights, partition, and migration.

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Devin Naar with Ladino artifact

Devin E. Naar

Associate Professor, Isaac Alhadeff Professor of Sephardic Studies, Sephardic Studies Program Chair, Joint Appointment: Jackson School of International Studies
Stephanie Smallwood

Stephanie Smallwood

Associate Professor, Dio Richardson Endowed Professor, Joint Appointment: Department of Comparative History of Ideas
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Students may work with Professor Smallwood to develop a field in African history focused on sub-Saharan Africa in the pre-colonial period. The field broadly encompasses the economic, political, and socio-cultural history of African societies before c. 1880, with special attention to Africa's evolving relationship to the West, and slavery and slave trading both within sub-Saharan Africa and across desert/ocean boundaries. Students will work in consultation with Professor Smallwood to develop a course of study that balances historiographic coverage and thematic/conceptual agendas specific to their individual needs and interests.

    Division: United States

    Students preparing a field in United States history with Professor Smallwood will focus on the territory's social and cultural history in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Major themes students are expected to explore in depth include European exploration, cartographic representation, cultural interactions among Native American, European, and African peoples, and racial slavery.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Colonialisms)

    Students may work with Professor Smallwood to develop a field in Comparative Colonialisms that focuses on early modern Atlantic history. The field examines European colonial regimes in the Americas, commercial and cultural ties between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and free and coerced migrations within the Atlantic arena. Special attention is given also to methodological and theoretical discourses relating to the study of comparative history and epistemological critiques of "modernity."

    Students working in this field are encouraged to consult with other appropriate faculty specialists in African history, early modern European history, colonial Latin American history, as well as those offering other specialized fields within the Comparative Colonialisms rubric.

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Professor Lynn Thomas

Lynn M. Thomas

Professor, Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor in History
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Examines methodological and conceptual issues in the study of sub-Saharan Africa since 1500 focusing on pre-colonial political and social institutions, slavery and the slave trade, European colonialism, anti-colonial resistance and nationalist politics, and postcolonial challenges. Emphasis on exploring the usefulness of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class as analytical categories in African history.

    Division: Comparative History (Comparative Gender & Comparative Colonialisms)

    The field in Comparative Gender explores historical scholarship on gender, focusing on 19th- and 20th-century Africa and another period and place of the student's choice, by examining the emergence of women's history; the relationship between Marxism, feminism, and poststructuralism; the framing of gender as a social and symbolic construct; and the analytical intersections between gender, race, sexuality, and class. The field in Comparative Colonialisms approaches European colonialism in Africa and Asia during the 19th and 20th centuries by examining scholarship on the relationship between capitalism and colonialism, violence and the routinization of colonial power, colonial categories of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and gender, and resistance movements and nationalist politics.


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Christopher Tounsel

Christopher Tounsel

Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies, Director, African Studies Program
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Students may work with Professor Tounsel to develop a field in African history focused on
    North Africa and/or sub-Saharan Africa during the colonial and postcolonial eras. The field
    could concern social, political, religious, and economic subjects of study including slavery and
    abolition, the Scramble for Africa, resistance and nationalism, Pan-Africanism, Christianity and
    Islam, and other subjects. Students will work with Professor Tounsel to develop a course of
    study that incorporates canonical scholarship, general and nuanced coverage, and specific
    themes tailored to their interests and needs.

    Division: Comparative Histories (Comparative Colonialisms)

    Students may work with Professor Tounsel to develop a field of Comparative Colonialisms that
    focuses on 18-20 th century imperialism in Africa, Asia, and the Atlantic World. The field could
    examine colonial regimes following the “Scramble for Africa,” social and political connections
    between Africa and the non-African world, and networks/solidarities forged between colonized
    populations in Africa and beyond. Special attention is given to print media, state and non-state
    actors, intra- and inter-state organizations, and religious institutions.

    Division: Comparative Histories (Comparative Ethnicity and Nationalism)*

    Students may work with Professor Tounsel to develop a field of Comparative Ethnicity and
    Nationalism that focuses on racial, ethnic, and religious nationalism in the colonial and
    postcolonial worlds. The field could explore such areas as Pan-Africanism, colonial and
    postcolonial liberation movements, Church-State relations, political theologies, and politically-
    active non-state actors.


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profile photo of professor Joel Walker

Joel Thomas Walker

Associate Professor
  • Graduate Studies Description

    Division: Ancient Meditteranean & Late Antique Near East

    A field in Late Antiquity will encompass the history of the Mediterranean and the Near East, 200-750CE, combining a broad general knowledge of the period, with intensive study of at least one region (e.g., North Africa, Syria-Palestine) and two themes chosen to complement student research interests (e.g., hagiography and asceticism, cities, death, burial, and conceptions of the afterlife). Students preparing a field in the History of the Byzantine Empire, 610-1453 CE, may focus on social and cultural history, and the relationship between Byzantine Empire and its neighboring states. In most cases, students will want to include course work in Byzantine art history as part of their preparation for this field. A field in the history of Christianity in the Near East is also possible, covering the period from 500 CE to the present, combining a broad knowledge of the various Christian traditions of the region, with an intensive study of any one tradition (e.g., the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, East or West Syrian Christian traditions), focused on the pre-modern period.

    Division: Africa & the Middle East

    Students may prepare a field in the Islamic Middle East, encompassing the history of the Sasanian and early Islamic Near East, 500-900 CE, combining a broad general knowledge of the period, with intensive study of at least one region (e.g., Egypt, Iraq, Iran), and two overarching themes chosen to complement student research interests.

    Division: Comparative History (Historiography & Comparative Gender)

    Students preparing a field in Historiography will explore the themes, methods, and theory of hist TAUGHTorical writing in late antiquity. Students will acquire a broad general knowledge of the range of historical writing in late antiquity (200-900 CE): from the classical Greco-Roman tradition represented by writers like Ammianus Marcellinus and Procopius; to the Christian history and chronicle tradition begun by Eusebius of Caesarea; to al-Tabari and the origins of Islamic historiography. Fields in Comparative Gender will encompass the history of gender in early Christianity, from the New Testament to late antiquity (20-600 CE). Students will acquire a broad command of early Christian debates about gender (especially the role of women in the church). Topics examined in the field include sexual renunciation, asceticism, and the legal and social role sof women in the Roman Empire and the early Church.

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