Albert Hourani’s article addresses the ideas and approaches that historians use to map the history of Middle East. Hourani explained his own points of view about Middle Eastern history during a joint conference by the British and French Societies of Middle Eastern and Arabic history-studies.
The author uses his personal understanding and impressions to articulate his argument. Furthermore, the speaker refers to his vast experience as a Middle-Eastern history scholar. In the talk, Hourani references several 20th century publications on the history of Middle East.
Hourani’s main argument is that several inconsistencies are manifested during the mapping of Middle Eastern history.
This paper explores Hourani’s main ideas on how history scholars should approach Middle Eastern historical studies in order not to make false conclusions or mistakes. The scholar points out the methods of viewing Middle Eastern history he considers inappropriate.
The author begins his talk by noting the influence both British and French colonial administrations have had on the Middle Eastern history. According to Hourani, these two administrations promoted the culture of extensive historical scholarship in Middle East.
Furthermore, Hourani recognizes that the evolution of Middle Eastern history depends on the contributions of various European historians. The speaker states that Middle East is a general term that has several geographical, historical, and religious associations.
For instance, Albert Hourani poses the question whether or not these associations could mean that the Middle East is a single historical and geographical unit. After that Hourani explores this question by referencing publications, which address the origins of Islam and other Arab cultures.
The speaker’s main point is that it is erroneous to address the history of a certain geographical region without considering its association and interaction with other regions and cultures.
According to Hourani, it is not possible to consider the history of the geographical area that covers the territory from Nile to Oxus (Middle East) as homogenous. The speaker notes that the history of Middle East is definitely connected to the history of adjacent areas such as northern India and inner Asia.
The most significant, prominent and influential time of Middle Eastern history includes the era of the Ottoman Empire. Historians note that the period between the 15th and 18th centuries stands out as the time of dominance for the Arabic culture and its creativity.
Hourani argues that the influences of both the Ottoman Empire and Islam are pertinent to the Middle Eastern history. The speaker points out that the last congregation of most Middle Eastern countries occurred in the times the Ottoman Empire.
During the Ottoman’s rule, several countries became parts of the Empire. Consequently, the Ottoman Empire unified these regions under Islam. Hourani notes that Islam is the last great force that united the Arabic nations into a monolithic linguistic and cultural unit.
However, the history of Middle East outside of these three elements should not be ignored due to the prominence of Islam. According to Hourani, any historical work that addresses Middle Eastern development must consider the influences of the Ottoman Empire, Islam, and European colonization.
Nevertheless, historians find it difficult to map the history of Middle East in the period between 11th and 15th centuries due to its diversity. Hourani also points out the difficulties of mapping the history of Islam during the last fifty years because most Arabic countries have separated and turned into independent states.
In his talk, Hourani sought to address the different methodologies and strategies that could be used when studying the history of Middle East.
According to the speaker, the influences of Islam and the Ottoman Empire should neither be ignored, nor should they be the limiting factors in the study of Middle Eastern History, as this territory is proved to have undergone multiple various influences and tendencies, causing diverse patterns and processes in its development.