Americans in the Middle East Jterm course

New J-Term Course in Middle Eastern and Transnational History

Faculty: Elizabeth F. Thompson

HIST 3559  

“Americans in the Middle East”

Elizabeth F. Thompson, Associate Professor of History

January 2 – 11, 2013

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC

This course gives students a broad historical understanding of this country's engagement with the Middle East by analyzing a wide variety of Americans’ encounters in the region, beyond the usual focus on diplomats and soldiers.   We will follow the actions of an array of Americans and examine Middle Eastern peoples' responses to them: missionaries, educators, diplomats, businessmen, spies, journalists, and non-governmental organizations.  On one level, the  course addresses the question many Americans asked after the September 11, 2001 attacks: "Why do they hate us?"  Most citizens were only dimly aware that fellow citizens had shaped a relationship with Arab peoples for more than 150 years.   At another level, the course engages with new efforts to broaden diplomatic history into transnational history.  Scholars now recognize that networks of citizens have shaped diplomacy alongside the professionals of the state department.  They also recognize that the diverse branches of government have interacted to produce policy.  And finally, the emphasis on transnational history takes account of how peoples of foreign countries in turn have shaped Americans' policies and views.

The course will meet for nine days in Washington DC.  Students will stay together at a hotel near the Woodrow Wilson Center and near transport to the National Archives and Library of Congress.   This is a chance to work closely with other students on a shared research project, and to gain experience in using "real" documents, just as professional scholars do.    Research is done in the afternoons, after morning discussions of common readings. 
Students will be expected to read 200 pages each night.  Morning sessions will end with a 30-minute lecture, to give context needed for the next day’s reading.  Class time will also include workshops, where we read and analyze primary sources together.   After lunch, we will generally take trips to the Library of Congress and the National Archives, for orientation and to begin collecting documents for research.  Some afternoons will be spent at the Woodrow Wilson Center with a guest speaker.  
The final paper will be based on the student’s own research.  It should focus on the memoirs, papers, or government documents from one set of Americans in the Middle East, interpreted within the broader history we have studied.   Papers must also respond to the argument made by Matthew Jacobs in Imagining the Middle East about the way in which knowledge of the Middle East grew and changed over the generations.   By using the case studies of our daily readings and your own research on a specific “encounter” of Americans with people in the Middle East, you will test his hypothesis. 
Readings for the course include:  Ussama Makdisi, Artillery of Heavan: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East; Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Money, Oil and Power; Robert Vitalis, America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier; Miles Copeland, The Game of NationsThe Amorality of Power Politics; Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA; Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism; Thomas E. Ricks, The Gamble:  General David Petreus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq.


Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
office: M-F 8 am to 4:30 pm
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