History 497

Proseminar: Historians and Historical Literature in the Pre-Modern Middle East

Fall 2011

Dr. Rachel Howes


Class Time: Monday and Wednesday 2-3:15

Room: Sierra Hall 288

Office Hours: Wednesday 3:30-5:30, and by appointment

Dr. Howes’ Office: Sierra Tower 621

Class Web Site: www.csun.edu/~rthowes

Dr. Howes’ Email: Rachel.howes@csun.edu

Dr. Howes’ Phone Number: 818-677-2755



The most important sources for the history of the pre-modern Middle East are narrative and literary sources.  While historians of the Middle before 1800 do use other sources, the narrative and literary sources form the backbone of most studies and provide context for the rest.  Thus, this class will focus on these sources, and students will learn how to develop a research project based on them.


The focus of this course will be the production of an article-length paper based on primary sources.  With guidance from Dr. Howes, students will be encouraged to pick and read one pre-modern Middle Eastern historian in translation, develop and research a topic that begins with that historian, and write and write a 20-30 page paper on that subject.  Students will be expected to base this paper largely on primary sources.  Students can choose from of a variety of texts: religious and political literature, poetry and prose, as well as more traditional historical texts such as chronicles and biographies. 


This class will help students to master the following SLOs in History:

1.      To analyze and explain problems of historical interpretation;

2.      To comprehend, articulate, and apply the various approaches to historical analysis;

3.      To learn to read and interpret historical sources critically and analytically;

4.      To express orally and exchange historical ideas;

5.      To select a research problem and search for relevant primary and secondary sources;

6.      To write a research essay using a scholarly format that includes footnotes and bibliography;

7.      To demonstrate a complex understanding of the history of the United States, Europe, and one other region or culture over a period of time;

8.      To understand historical subjects that transcend regional boundaries.





Workload: This is a very intense class.  You will be expected to do at least 3-4 hours of work outside the class for every hour you spend in class.  Thus you must expect to do 9-12 hours of work outside of class per week.  For most students the upper end of that range will be necessary to complete the project!


You will find that some weeks you do not immediately have as much work as others.  Try to do at least 9 hours regardless.  In this class especially, you will find it pays off.



Grading: Your grade will be based on the following factors:


Participation- 5%

Presentation of Historian 10%

Presentation of Research Project 10%

Presentation of Final Paper 10%

Preliminary Topic and Bibliography 5%

Paper Sketch 10%

Rough Draft 20%

Final Draft of Paper- 30%


In grading both presentations and papers, it is my feeling that a grade of a D means that you have done the minimum.  C means that you have done the assignment averagely well.  A grade of B means that you have done a better-than-average job, and an A represents really excellent work. 

This means that in order to get a C on a paper you should have asked and answered a question in a well-written essay with a thesis statement, introduction and conclusion. Your thesis should be framed by secondary sources (ie- you should take your questions from the secondary sources) and based on primary sources (your answers to those questions should be based on primary sources).   You should include clear examples from your sources to prove your thesis.

A presentation should also be well organized and have a thesis statement.  The presentation should provide evidence in the form of specific examples.  An oral presentation will be much simpler in form than a written presentation, but it should nonetheless make a clear argument.


Participation: Students are expected to come to every class meeting and be prepared for the day’s activities.  Students are expected to be actively involved in what is happening in class.

            Early on in the class students will be divided into groups depending on the topics that they are investigating.  These research groups are designed to lend students support in the sometimes arduous task of research and writing.  Some of the work for the class will thus be in the context of these groups.  Work done in these groups will count towards that participation grade.


Presentations of Historians:  Students will be expected to present to the class the sources that they are reading.  These presentations will be short, 10 minutes maximum, and should give the listener an idea of the content of this source or historian, including some specific examples.  The presenter should also outline any issues, problems, or benefits of the historian.   This will be preparation for your preliminary topic.  There will be no grade on these- a reasonable attempt will get full credit- but you will get a critique.

Due Dates: September 28th or October 3rd


Presentations of Research Progress: The idea with this presentation is to discuss what you are reading, looking for, or pondering as you try to find out answers to your question.  In other words, how are you expanding on ideas inspired by reading your historian?  You can also discuss problems that you encounter and questions that the new material you are collecting raises.  These presentations should be a preparation for your paper sketch.  These will be short presentations, 10 minutes maximum and should give the class an idea of what you are doing.  There will be no grades for this; a reasonable attempt will get full credit.

Due Dates: October 26th and 31st


Presentation of Final Paper:   In the last week of classes, students will present their paper to the class.  Again, these will not be long presentations, but should give the listener an idea of the topic, sources, arguments, and conclusions that the writer came to in the course of her or his research.  This will be graded largely on organization, clarity, and expression of your arguments.

Due Date: November 30th, December 5th or 7th  



Preliminary Topic and Bibliography: This will be the first stage of writing the paper.  The student will discuss in a page or two the topic that he or she wants to investigate.  This should include the major questions he or she will investigate and how they relate to his or her historian.  The preliminary bibliography should include at least seven sources and at least two primary sources.  The assumption is that both the topic and the bibliography will change as the student does more research.  There will be no letter grades for this; a good attempt will get you full credit.  However, you will be critiqued both by me and by your peers.  You will be critiqued on clarity of the topic you choose, the applicability of the sources you list to your topic, and on its potential for a making a good paper. 

Due Date: October 10th 


Paper Sketch:  This is the second stage of writing the paper.  This should be a 7-10 page sketch of your paper.  You should have a clear idea of what you are going to write and the various sections that you will include in the paper.  You should have read most of the primary and secondary sources that you are going to use, and you should give a clear idea of what is missing and what you intend to include in later drafts.  Groups will read each others’ papers and give feedback, in addition to my critique.  These will be critiqued on clarity of purpose, on sources used, and on potential for a good paper.  There will be no letter grades; a good attempt will get you full credit.

Due Date: November 2nd  


Rough Draft:  The rough draft should be more or less the length of the finished paper.  It should have a developed argument, and the evidence should be clearly presented.  You should have included all or most of the sources you intend to use, and those that are not yet there should be identified and you should explain in brackets what you plan to do with them.  Some sections of the essay can be unfinished, and the footnotes and bibliography can be incomplete.  However, the more you include, the better a critique your colleagues and your professor will give you.  Ideally, you will give a complete paper, so that the changes made to the final draft will be cosmetic only.  These will be critiqued in the same way that the final research paper is: do you prove your argument and is the paper well-written?  There will be no letter grades; a good attempt will get you full credit.

Due Date:  November 21st   


Final Draft of Paper:  This paper should have your arguments completely developed and your evidence presented in such a way as to prove those arguments.  It should be roughly 20-30 pages exclusive of footnotes and bibliography.  It should have at least 10 sources including at least two primary sources.  All the scholarly apparatus should be in place: footnotes, bibliography, page numbers, etc.  The paper should conform to standard grammatical and stylistic rules.

Due Date: December 16th before 5pm.



This may seem like a lot of components, but most of them are aimed at completing the final project.




Most of the reading in this course will be done at your own initiative and will focus on the topic of your particular paper.  However, in the interests of getting you thinking about possible historians and their contexts, I have assigned one book and several articles which we will read and discuss as a class.  I have also included Kate Turabian’s Guide which is invaluable for the mechanics of writing papers.


Chase F. Robinson. Islamic Historiography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.  ISBN:0521629365


Kate L. Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.


CHEATING AND PLAGIARISM ARE IN NO WAY ACCEPTABLE! If you have any questions at all on this score, please ask me- I will happily help you.  Alternately, you can look at the University policy on this at http://www.csun.edu/studentaffairs/studentconduct/academic_dishonesty.pdf



ELECTRONIC RESOURCES FOR THE COURSE:  There is a course website which can be found on my website at www.csun.edu/~rthowes.edu which will contain the syllabus, schedule of presenters and other miscellaneous course materials. 


The readings for the course, other than the Robinson book, will be posted on Moodle.


A LAST WORD: I am here to help you learn, and you should make use of me.  Come to my office hours, stop by and ask a question if you see my door open.  In particular feel free to ask paper and presentation-related questions.  Ask copious questions in class.  If you have a crisis, let me know.  I can usually help you deal with your class work, but I cannot help if I do not know. 


Schedule of Readings and Activities


Part I: Finding your Historian

Week 1 -Introduction

Monday August 29th –Introduction and In-Class Research Day to Select Possible Topics and Introductory Books



Wednesday August 31st- Early Islamic Arabic Historiography I

Readings: Robinson. Islamic Historiography, xvi-xxv, 1-79



Week 2-Early Islamic Historiography

Monday September 5th Labor Day- No Class


Wednesday September 7th- Early Islamic Arabic Historiography II

Readings: Robinson. Islamic Historiography, 83-189


Week 3- Medieval and Early Modern Historiography

Monday September 12th- Medieval Historiography

Readings: Julie Meisami. “The Past in the Service of the Present: Two Views of History in Medieval Persia,” Poetics Today vol. 14, no. 2: Cultural Processes in Muslim and Arab Societies: The Medieval and Early Modern Periods (Summer 1993): 247-275. (On Moodle)


Donald P. Little. “Historiography of the Ayyubid and Mamluk Epochs,” in Carl F. Petry, ed. The Cambridge History of Egypt, v. 1 Islamic Egypt, 640-1517.  (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998): 412-444. (On Moodle)



Wednesday September 14th – Early Modern Historiography

Readings: Suraiya Faroqhi. Approaching Ottoman History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 144-173. (On Moodle)


Gabriel Piterberg. An Ottoman Tragedy: History and Historiography at Play. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, pp. 30-49. (On Moodle)


Sholeh Quinn. “The Dreams of Shaykh Safi al-Din and Safavid Historical Writing,” Iranian Studies vol. 29, nos. 1-2 (Winter-Spring 1996): 127-147. (On Moodle)





Week 4- Finding your Historian

Monday September 19th- Presentation of Preliminary works and discussion of what historian to select


Wednesday September 21st- In-class discussion of what to look for in reading your historian



Part II: Finding Your Topic in Your Historian

Week 5-Discovering your Historian

Monday September 26th – Reading Day


Wednesday September 28th- Presentation of Historians


Week 6- Presentation of Historian

Monday October 3rd – Presentation of Historian


Wednesday October 5th- In-class Research Day to Find Possible Topics Based on your Historian and Division into Working Groups



Week 7-Finding a Topic

Monday October 10th- Group Discussions of Preliminary Topics

            Preliminary Topics Due


Wednesday October 12th- Individual Meetings with Professor to discuss topics


Part III: Researching Your Topic Beyond Your Historian

Week 8-Researching your Topic

Monday October 17th- Individual Meetings with Professor to discuss topics


Wednesday October 19th – Individual Research Day


Week 9-Continuing Research and Writing

Monday October 24th – Individual Research Day


Wednesday October 26th – Presentation of Research So Far



Week 10-Presentation of Research so Far and Paper Sketches

Monday October 31st – Presentation of Research so far




Wednesday November 2nd – In-class discussion of Paper Sketches

Paper Sketches Due



Week 11- Continuing Research and Writing

Monday November 7th – Individual Meetings to Discuss Paper Sketches



Wednesday November 9th – Individual Meetings to discuss Paper Sketches



Week 12-Continuing Writing

Monday November 14th –Individual Writing Day


Wednesday November 16th- Individual Writing Day


Week 13-Rough Drafts Due

Monday November 21st – Group Discussion of Rough Drafts

Rough Drafts Due


Wednesday November 23rd – Individual Meetings to Discuss Rough Drafts



Week 14-Presentations of Final Topics

Monday November 28th – Individual Meetings to Discuss Rough Drafts


Wednesday November 30th – Presentations of Papers


Week 15-Presentations

Monday December 5th – Presentations of Papers


Wednesday December 7th –Presentations of Papers


Final Paper Due Friday December 16th by 5pm