Project Assignment

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  Gonzalez and Thornton


1. Declaration of Project Topic and initial list of sources - Due by class time Monday, Sept. 19.  No two students may choose the same topic.  Topics are approved on a first-come-first-served basis according to date and time of note to both teachers on SWIS. 

2. Research Skills – visit to the Library beginning Thursday, Sept. 22 with orientation conducted by a librarian.  Consult the project Lib Guide that Pam Allan has put together for us.

 3. Research and Reporting:  Homework and class time between Sept. 22 and Sept. 29  will be devoted to your research on the project. Don’t forget to use the Lib Guide Pam Allan made up for us.  Write a paper of about three to five pages.  Two printed copies are due in class Friday, Sept. 30.  Your goal at this point is to provide a general introduction to your topic: main ideas, personalities, and issues.  Give your paper an interesting and engaging title.  Use the Peer Editing guidelines to help proofread one another’s work (they can also be useful when you are working alone.   The Academic Integrity pledge must be written out by hand and signed on the front page of your paper for it to be accepted. 

Oral Reports:  Short and Long Versions: Everyone in the  section will present a short ( two minute summary) oral report on his or her research in class on Friday, Sept. 30  (Family Day).  Each student will then present a full oral report proceeding  according to the order of names on the list of topics.  We will spread these oral reports out over a few weeks or more (one a day or so).  As in the case with your first paper, the goal of the oral report should be to provide an overview of your topic:  an introduction to the main ideas, personalities, and issues. 

At this early stage, your research should be based mainly in secondary sources:  encyclopedia articles, books, and other materials about your topic.  Professor Patrick Rael of Bowdoin College has provided a useful guide to working with secondary sources.  Click here to read it:  How To Read A Secondary Source.  In later stages of your research, you should move on to primary source materials, which include works written by people who are main players in the phenomena you are studying (as opposed to secondary authors – like yourself – who are writing about the phenomena from a distance).  See Professor Rael’s How to Read a Primary Source

Note on Sources:

Use only high quality sources.  Think of a research project in the same way a lawyer would regard his or her argument in court: your aim is to present the strongest, most authoritative evidence you can garner in order to persuade your reader that your paper or article is providing the highest level of expertise about your topic that can be found and is doing it well. This means using only good books and articles written by recognized experts in the field. The Library databases will take you to many of these “peer reviewed” sources, most of which are written by professors, researchers, and other recognized experts in the field. Do NOT use any non-academic sources without consulting us first.  See the note at the end of this page about Wikipedia

A thesis is not required at this point. However, a thesis will be required as the basis for your final paper in the course.   

Your essay must be fully documented (footnotes and  bibliography).   Consult the History and Social Science Writing Manual and Stylebook.  Consult the course Policies and Expectations to make sure your work is in line with what we expect.

4.  Second Round of Research

Start thinking about and gathering resources for your second (final) round of research.  Look at book reviews posted on the blog.   Look at the bibliography at the old course web site.   Our library may not have what you need, so talk to a librarian early and try to get the books via Inter-Library Loan.  Sometime on or before Th, 12/8, you must submit your bibliography to either Pam Allan or Kim Sprankle in the Library for review. 

5. The Final Paper in your project (25% of your final grade), is due in class on our assigned day (TBD) during “exam week,” Dec. 14-16.   The normal expectation is a paper of about ten pages of prose followed by footnotes and a bibliography, both organized in standard form (consult the History and Social Science Writing Manual and Stylebook).     More on documentation in class).   This paper must present a clearly stated thesis which you then proceed to support and defend.   Click here to read about what a thesis is and how to put one together.  The expectation is that you will use at least six sources (a mix of encyclopedias, books, articles, and other sources). Papers without footnotes and bibliographies will not be accepted.  You will have about a week of homework and class time to research, read, and write.  Use the Peer Editing guidelines to help proofread one another’s work (they can also be useful when you are working alone.

TWO PRINTED COPIES of your paper INCLUDING FOOTNOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY are due by class time (A block) on our assigned exam day.  No exceptions, no extensions, no papers accepted without footnotes and bibliography. The Academic Integrity pledge must be written out by hand and signed on the front page of your paper for it to be accepted. 

N.B. Written reports accompanying oral reports should not be considered completed sections of the final paper but rather parts of a “work in progress” which we expect you to revise as the Term passes along. The shorter report should emphasize information rather than analysis. The final paper should emphasize interpretation, analysis, and critical assessment in addition to information all of which are enlisted to defend your thesis.

Consult the course Policies and Expectations to make sure your work is in line with what we expect.


Begin by browsing the History of the Middle East Data Base (many of the links to particular subjects below will take you to the database).  Browse the course blog.  Consult the text study guides (on the syllabus) for ideas.  Check out the slides from class (in our course “ClassSpaces” folder on the Virtual Desktop.  In addition, consider some of the following possible topics:  

1. People

Bedouin, Marsh Arabs of Iraq, Kurds, Berbers, Druse, Alawites, etc. Prominent political figures: Ataturk, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ahmed Ben Bella, Muamar Qaddafi, Yasir Arafat, Ruhollah Khomeni, Hafez al-Asad, David Ben Gurion, Anwar al-Sadat. Prominent writers, thinkers, philosophers, scientists: Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Khaldun, al-Ghazzali, etc. 

2. Family

Marriage (including the Shiite custom of muta, or “temporary marriage”), parenting, familial relationships, education. In February, 2004, reforms in Morocco’s family law (Mudawana) gave women more rights in marriage and divorce. 

3. Women and/or Men in the Middle East

Socialization, relationships, rights, work, sexual issues. The case of Amina Lawal in Nigeria. How women are contributing to the booming economy in Dubai. Prominent women in the Muslim world.

4. Developing Countries in the Region

Population, urbanization, industrialization, environmental concerns, water usage  (see also).  The issue of water in particular is becoming critically important.  Some say that the next war in the Middle East is likely to involve conflicts over water resources. 

5. Religion (see Overview of Islam)  (see also)

Muhammad, Shiitesand Sunnis, beliefs and rituals (consider an in-depth study of one of Islam’s “five pillars:  creed, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage), customs, the Qur’an and Hadith, philosophy, art, architecture, music, civilization, contributions to science, medicine, the Sufis (Islam’s mystics),   Islamic revivalism(Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Muslim Brotherhood), militant Islamic movements ( Islamic Jihad, Takfir wa al-Hijra, Hizbullah, HAMAS, the Taliban, etc. — go to Models of Islamic Revivalism on the Middle East History Database for more, as well as the study guide for the Kepel text.). Islam and other religions. Islam and secularism (Ataturk in Turkey, for example), Islam versus the West (Christian and Secular).

6.  Muslim Art and Architecture

For example, see Fatimid or Mamluk art and architecture and more examples.  See also Muslim calligraphy.

7. The Modern Era

The Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey, political movements, Israeli-Arab conflict  (also), civil wars in Lebanon, European colonialism, Gulf Wars, Afghanistan-Pakistan, etc.

8. Literature, Entertainment, Media

Novels, poetry, plays, stories, folktales, etc.  Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said (“Adonis”), Iraqi poet Mohammed Mahdi al-Jawahri, Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish,  Egyptian novelists Naguib Mahfouz and Yusuf Idris, Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih, Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani. Prominent writers on women’s rights: Nawal al-Saddawi, Fatima Mernissi, Amina al-Said, Qasim Amin (Yes, he’s a man.).  Entertainers like Norwegian Muslim stand-up comic Shabana Rehman. 

9. Commerce

Islamic banking (significantly different from Western banking practices), industries, economics, the place of Middle East commerce in the global economic order.

10. The Middle East in United States Foreign Policy

U.S. and Middle East Relations After “9/11,” The Tripoli War (1801), The Suez Crisis (1956), the U.S. and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the U.S. and the Iranian Revolution (1979), the U.S. and Lebanese civil wars (1958, 1975-1989), the U.S. and Afghanistan, Taliban, Foreign policy and oil, etc. 

Concluding Tips and Caveats:  

  • Use only web material from universities, published journals, and other sources that have undergone rigorous editing or peer review and that are widely recognized in academic circles for quality scholarship and authority.  You may not use Wikipedia as a cited source in any papers submitted in this course (more on this in class). 
  • Do general keyword searches in the Library’s online catalog.  
  • Consult the bibliography at the History of the Middle East Database.
  • Use the Lib Guide Pam Allan drew up for us.
  • Search InfoTrac, JSTOR, ProQuest, and other electronic resources  for journal and periodical materials (accessible via your Virtual Desktop).
  • Never rely on just one source.  Look for support of your ideas from a variety of expert sources. 
  • If a source has an index, use it to look up and locate information pertinent to your topic quickly and efficiently.  
  • Most important of all, ask a librarian for help. 


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