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Caliphs, Sultans, Amirs & Viziers: Forming the Islamic World - HIS00056C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Harry Munt
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2018-19

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into historical study of an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have practiced core skills identified in the Autumn Term Making Histories module, including historical analysis, note-taking, essay writing, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars: and,
  • Have delivered advanced level historical work in essays, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the module topics.

Module content

During the seventh and eighth centuries, Muslims established an empire (the ‘caliphate’) that reached from Spain in the west to Central Asia in the east. These centuries are frequently seen as the ‘Golden Age’ of Islamic history, and the Abbasid capital at Baghdad as having been the cultural capital of the world in the late eighth century. The unified Islamic empire did not last long, however, and from the ninth century the history of the Islamic world has more commonly been one of competing rulers and military strongmen (sultans and amirs) fighting over the legacy of the early caliphs.

The course will challenge the simplistic model of ‘Golden Age’ and decline by exploring the transformation of the Middle East from the late ninth to the late eleventh centuries. This period saw a series of important developments that dramatically transformed the Islamic world. We will investigate how the nature of religious and political authority changed, as the age of empire gave way to one of an ‘Islamic commonwealth’. We will look at the new regional amirs and sultans, at how they legitimised their power, and the social and cultural ramifications of the more regionalised politics of the period. The final seminars will confront two important issues in the history of the Islamic world: the crystallisation of Sunnism and Shi ism, and the developments in attitudes towards the non-Muslim subjects of the Muslim rulers, still perhaps the majority of the population in many regions of the Middle East.

Teaching Programme:
Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over eight weeks. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. The rise of Islam and the formation of the first Islamic empire
  2. The caliphate in the ninth century
  3. The break up of the Abbasid caliphate
  4. Successor states in the East
  5. Successor states in the West
  6. The Great Seljuqs
  7. The formation of Sunnism and Shi’ism
  8. Non-Muslims under Muslim rule


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2000 Words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

During the autumn term students will be tasked with finding and researching their own primary source or sources in pairs or small groups, on which they will give a group presentation for formative assessment in one or more sessions during weeks 4-7.

Students will then submit 2,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 10.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2000 Words
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

You might like to look at the following:

Berkey, Jonathan P. The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Bennison, Amira K. The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students