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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

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History and Politics of the Modern Middle East

Dates: July 15-August 4, 2018 (3 weeks)
Credits: 3 credits
Eligibility: current sophomores, juniors, seniors
(see eligibility requirements)


From the exodus of millions of Syrians from their homeland, to ISIS, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Cold War competition in the Middle East between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and the consequences of the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century, the modern Middle East has been a place of political upheaval, shifting alliances, sectarian violence, and competing economic interests.

With the far-reaching implications of continued instability in this region, it is critical for us to understand the sources—and the outcomes—of these continuing struggles.

In this timely course, taught by Ross Brann, the acclaimed M. R. Konvitz Professor of Judeo-Islamic Studies at Cornell, you'll examine the modern history and politics of this volatile region, beginning with European colonization following World War I and concluding with Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war.

You'll explore:

  • the emergence of Arab, Turkish, and Persian nationalisms and Zionism;
  • social and religious reform;
  • the discovery of oil and its strategic importance in the world political economy;
  • the role of the region in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union;
  • the conflict between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab states;
  • Al Qaeda's attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and its aftermath;
  • the political use of Islam; and
  • the Arab uprisings of the last few years, and the civil wars that followed.

In the first week, you'll map the modern Middle East and learn about its peoples, land, and resources. You'll examine the end of the Ottoman Empire and European domination of the region early in the twentieth century. You'll discuss the post-war mandate system in the Middle East and how the region resisted colonial rule in the years between the first and second World Wars.

In week two, you'll look at the challenges of self-rule across the region following World War II. You will talk about the widening of the Arab-Israeli Conflict in the late 1940s, the heyday of pan-Arab nationalism under President Nasser of Egypt, the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 that shook up the entire region.

In the third and final week, you'll cover "the Middle East unhinged": the Lebanese Civil War, the war between Iran and Iraq, the first Palestinian intifada, the first Gulf War, and the failed promise of the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995. Among many topics, you'll consider both the causes and consequences of 9/11. You will also take a close look at the recent Arab uprisings and the Iranian nuclear deal, and you'll speculate on the shape of things to come.

You'll supplement assigned readings and film viewings with translated primary sources (learning how to analyze documents) and section meeting discussions.

Course expectations

Students are expected to:

  • prepare readings for, attend, and participate in class discussion;
  • write twice weekly take-home reflective/review essays; and
  • adhere strictly to the standards of academic integrity outlined in Cornell's Code of Academic Conduct.

International students: Due to the volume and complexity of the reading material, we recommend this program for students who have earned a 103 or higher on the TOEFL exam and at least a 7 on the IELTS exam.


You'll be enrolled in the three-credit course History and Politics of the Modern Middle East (NES 2619/GOVT 2623).

This course meets Mondays through Fridays, 9:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Maximum enrollment: 60

Note: You may combine this program with a three-week 1 program to create a six-week Dual Program.

Required textbooks

Title Author Cost
The Middle East (Beginners Guides pb 2009) Philip Robbins $14.99
The Modern Middle East and North Africa: A History in Documents (Pages from History) 1st Edition (Oxford UP pb 2013) Julia Clancy-Smith and Charles Smith $54.95
The Penguin State of the Middle East Atlas Dan Smith $25.00

These titles and materials will be available at The Cornell Store.

Special scheduling


  • Monday, July 16: College Admissions Workshop, 2:30–3:45 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 23: College Fair: 4:00–6:00 p.m.

Checkout dates and times

Before making travel plans, review the checkout dates and times for your program. We strictly adhere to these deadlines.

Program director

Ross Brann

Ross Brann studied at the University of California, Berkeley; the Hebrew University, Jerusalem; New York University; and the American University in Cairo. He has taught at Cornell University since 1986 and served 14 years as chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies. In 2007 he was appointed Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow.

Brann is the author of The Compunctious Poet: Cultural Ambiguity and Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991) and Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Muslims and Jews in Islamic Spain (Princeton University Press, 2002). He has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies of the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the editor of four volumes and author of essays on the intersection of medieval Jewish and Islamic cultures.

"Intellectually engaging students in the undergraduate classroom, in office hours and after class hours defines my life as a professor at Cornell."

Student experiences

"My professor was awesome! He was understanding and very helpful. He explained complicated topics in a simple way so we could understand them." — Afrin Ansary

"Professor Brann was one of the best professors I've ever had. He is such a passionate man with a vast experience in teaching, and he makes sure that every student in his class is engaged."

Student blogs