WWI and the Making of the Modern Middle East
230 5th Avenue
(corner of 5th & President)
Brooklyn, NY 11215
In May 1916, as the senseless slaughter of Verdun entered its fourth month and the Allied powers prepared for the Battle of the Somme, François Georges-Picot and Sir Mark Sykes concluded a secret agreement to divide the Ottoman Empire into British and French territories. That the spoils of war would be imperial acquisitions was self-evident to the two countries, which had long competed for influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. What was less obvious was that the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement, alongside other wartime promises like the Balfour Declaration and the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, would continue to cast a dark shadow over the Middle East a century later. Indeed, whether we look at the disintegration of the state apparatus in Syria and Lebanon, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the rise of ISIS, we return repeatedly to the foundational role of WWI in nearly every crisis gripping the contemporary Middle East.
This class will bring these connections into sharp relief by examining not merely the colonial decision-making that divided the region with little regard for its inhabitants, but the political forms and concepts normalized by the war and its aftermath. Not only was the war experience generative of new forms of political violence (e.g. genocide, population exchange) and legal categories of identity (e.g. minorities, refugees), but it also invalidated older forms of political organization, such as the heterogeneous Empires of the Ottomans, Hapsburgs, and Russians, in favor of the (often imperial) nation-state. By looking at a diverse group of both contemporary and historic writers—ranging from Vladimir Lenin to George Antonius, Hannah Arendt and David Fromkin—we will consider the implications of this modern political order and the ways in which it continues to shape our world.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 30, 2015 — December 19, 2016