Cities of the Middle East

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In this reading seminar, we will explore the experience of urban space as a lens through which to view broader transformations in the social, political, and cultural history of the modern Middle East. At the same time, the course will introduce students to some recent developments in urban theory and different methods that scholars have adopted to capture various aspects of modern city life. To this end, we will undertake an interdisciplinary approach to our topic, drawing from such fields as art history, anthropology, sociology, geography, film studies, and political economy to explore the historical development of Middle Eastern cities through a variety of frames. In our effort to think beyond the “hard city” of bricks and mortar, particular attention will be paid to the cultural imagination and expression of various modern Middle Eastern cities in film and literature (our main “primary sources” in this course). In Part I of the course, we will conceptualize the place of the city in Middle Eastern culture and society, putting the urban experience in comparative geographic context, and then explore the historical and historiographical relevance of some archetypal urban forms typically ascribed to the region. In Part II, we will take historical snapshots of several different Middle Eastern cities, using them as case studies for exploring broader global transformations in the modern urban experience. Throughout the course, we will examine what cities have meant for Middle Eastern society and culture in a variety of contexts, study how various individuals and social groups across the region have experienced and used urban space, explore how artists and filmmakers have attempted to imagine and render their urban milieus, and consider the extent to which the Middle Eastern experience of urban modernity has paralleled others around the globe.