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Empire and Energy in the Middle East (HI3J1)

Module Convenor: Dr. Katayoun Shafiee


Office Hours: On MS Teams (by appointment only): Wednesdays 11-12 and Thursdays 12-1 pm

  • Seminars and Readings (available via Moodle)
  • Bibliography

The building of the world oil industry served as the occasion for one of the largest political projects of technical and economic development in the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Along with railroads, dams, electricity and communications networks, and other large-scale technical systems, a vast global network of oil wells, pipelines, refineries, and transoceanic shipping resulted from this enterprise. While everyone is aware of the importance of oil to the history of the modern Middle East, we know surprisingly little about how the social and technical properties of oil have shaped that history. Conventional ways of writing social and political history treat technical problems of producing, processing, and selling oil as practices that are external to the social world. Oil in turn has an "impact" on society, as simply a natural resource that affects political systems, social and economic orders, and state formation from the outside while blocking the possibility for democratic forms of politics.

The origins of the first oil industry in the Middle East reside in a little-known part of southwest Iran, now known as Khuzestan province, bordering the Persian Gulf. This special subject offers students the opportunity to make use of rich primary sources held in the BP Archive (e.g. company reports, newspapers, photography, and film) at the University of Warwick in order to develop an alternative account of the history of oil, specifically of BP in Iran. Focusing on the anatomy of one company, students will follow the transformation of oil through the machinery of oil operations (technical, legal, governmental, administrative), from the initial development of the Anglo-Iranian oil industry in the first decade of the twentieth century to the company’s dramatic departure and subsequent return as BP during Iran’s oil nationalization crisis over fifty years later.

The module is designed to be attractive to students interested in the history of British empire in the Middle East as well as business history and the history of science and technology that draws on interdisciplinary thinking in science and technology studies. It encourages students to rethink historical and political analysis by drawing connections between the political and historical forces through which large-scale infrastructures such as an oil industry have been shaped and the technical forces through which politics and history have been shaped.

Student Reviews:

  • 'The way in which it reframes topics in a way that very few other modules do, which means that even if the topic would originally appear familiar, it is given a new perspective. It also goes into a lot of detail and uses far more primary sources than most topics, which is really interesting!' - 2018/19 student

  • 'The readings are very comprehensive and focused. Good variety and nice historiographical debate included.' -2018/19 student

Principal Learning Outcomes:

* Demonstrate a systematic knowledge and understanding of the connection between political, technical, and economic interests and their significance for imperial history and the present situation in the Middle East.

* Critically analyse and evaluate a broad range of primary sources, including archival resources, relating to the history of the oil industry in the Middle East.
* Effectively communicate ideas, and make informed, coherent and persuasive arguments relating to the history of the oil industry in the Middle East.
* Critically review and consolidate theoretical, methodological, and historiographical ideas relating to Science and Technology Studies and the history of the oil industry in the Middle East.

Timetabled Teaching Activities:

  • 18 x 2 hour seminars
  • 4 x 1 hour essay preparation and feedback

Assessment Methods

This special subject centres on an analysis of extensive primary material concerning the BP company in Iran from 1901 to 1954. It is assessed by seminar contribution (10%), one 1,500 word essay (10%), one 3,000 word source based essay (40%), and one 3,000 word essay (40%). Please note that there is no final examination.

You may take the seminar questions as essay titles (subject to approval by the module convenor), to analyse a primary source, review a secondary source, or conduct a literature review. Essays should be submitted via Tabula.

See the Departmental Style Guideon how to format your work and the History Department UG Student Handbook on avoiding PLAGIARISM.

Possible long essay and dissertation topics, see here.

For deadlines and submission details, see Tabula.

  • Oral participation/engagement (10%)
  • 1500 word essay (10%) Deadline: TERM 1
  • 3000 word source based essay or equivalent (40%) Deadline: TERM 2
  • 3000 word essay (40%) Deadline: TERM 3

Demonstrators in support of Nationalization