History of the Modern Middle East—Lecture 1 (Introductory Concepts) (1)

The following are notes from the lecture series done by Dr. Richard Bulliet for the History of the Modern Modern Middle East course held at Columbia University (Columbia Course Catalog No. W3719) in the Spring semester of 2009.  

There are two problems in covering the “History of the Modern Middle East”; one is the concept of “modern” and the other is the “Middle East”.   There are no histories written before the 1950s which would suggest putting these two terms together.

1.   The concept of “modern”

The word “modern” has ambiguities.   Is modern history of the concept of “modernity” in a certain area or does it simply refer to a time period.   In the past, if you asked a Professor who taught Modern Middle Eastern history at one point in history they start their course, most would reply “starting with the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon Bonaporte in 1798”.   Nowadays, this would get you labeled as an Orientalist, because what you are doing is defining the start of the Modern period in the Middle East based on the point in time when it was invaded by an outside power.   In reality, the French were only there 3 years.

But if not with the invasion by Napoleon, when does it begin?  How do you define what is modern?   Does the modern intrinsically mean “Euro-American”?   Does it come from the Industrial Revolution, the Scientific Revolution, the French and then the American Revolution?   Does it start in Europe and the United States and then spread to other areas?   In that case, the term “modern” can actually refer to different time periods when you deal with different areas, because these ideas diffused to different parts of the world at different times.

In effect, this means that “modern” means “the point where the Europeans politically and economically start to impact the region”.

Or, does it refer to ideas or movements that occur within each region, and to which one can assign the label “modern”?    For example, A Modern History of the Muslim World, by Reinhard Schulze, according to the review on Amazon, “provides a clear overview of the ways in which twentieth century modernism affected the societies of the Islamic world and how modernism was developed from an Islamic perspective.”

The use of the word “modern” as applied to Western scholarship regarding the Middle East, first applies to individual countries, and then it applies to Islam before it is applied to the entire region.   For example, a work in 1908 called Modern Egypt was written by Evelyn Baring Cromer or Lord Cromer, who was the British consul-general in Egypt.   His history is basically that during the period of his administration of Egypt.

Another example, is the book Four Centuries of Modern Iraq written in 1925 by Stephen Helmsley Longrigg.   Prof. Bulliet always thought this was one of the most intriguing titles of a book on the Middle East:   how could Modern Iraq go back as far as 1525, at the time of Suleiman the Magnificent?   In reality, the title means that he is considering the area that consisted of three separate provinces of the Ottoman Empire that was then designated by the victorious Allied powers as “Modern Iraq” in the aftermath of World War I.   He discussed the historical events happened within that area during the previous four centuries, so in reality it is a history of the portion of the Ottoman Empire that is now considered Iraq.

Although these are two examples of books with the term “modern” applied to individual countries, there were no books that discussed the concept of the “modern” that covered the entire region.

2.  The concept of the “Middle East”

Another term rarely used before the 1950s was the “Middle East”.   The “Near East” or “Levant” were terms that were far more commonly used to refer to the region.   “Near East” was used primarily to refer to the countries that had been under control by the Ottoman Empire prior to World War I:  Turkey, portions of Europe, and the portions of the Arab World not under control by Britain or France.   The term “Middle East” became standard after World War II.   It came about in the following way:  in the course of the war, the Germans came to occupied countries in southeastern Europe such as Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Albania that had previously been part of the Ottoman Empire.  When the British were defending the region, they didn’t want to use the term Near East, because part of the Ottoman Empire was under control by the Germans.

To support Turkey which was neutral in the war, and the English-dominated Arab countries, the British set up something called the Middle East Supply Center in Cairo, Egypt.  This became the key administrative center for the British and later on the American war effort against the Germans in the region.   That was not the only source for the popularity of the term “Middle East”, but it was an important one.    So the term “Middle East” came into more general use after World War II.

The notes for this lecture are continued on subsequent posts.




This is dedicated to the Homewood-Flossmoor High School class of ’75, and particularly those such as Tina Landry Otte and Scott Tomlinson that facilitated the recent reunions.

I was recently invited to join a high-school reunion back in my hometown of Homewood, Illinois.   I was not able to make it because I learned about the event with too short notice to be able to attend this time around.

However, one of my classmates, Scott Tomlinson, arranged for a regional “mini-reunion” for those Homewood-Flossmoor (HF) graduates from the class of ’75 who live in the Southern California area.  

On Tuesday, April 17th, I drove down from Los Angeles and met with Scott Tomlinson and his son Erik, Marty Leonard, and Richard Carroll at an Italian restaurant in the Little Italy section of downtown San Diego.   We had a great meal and had a wonderful time reminiscing for about 3 hours.  Marty mentioned that he thought we were starting to look younger as the evening progressed; he attributed it to the wine some of us were drinking. 

On the way home, I realized that what Marty was saying was true:  I felt a vitality that I had not felt for a long time by reliving events and memories from that intense time of our lives.   I was casting about in my mind for an image to explain how I felt, and I finally discovered one.  

A pearl is made by a piece of grit or sand which gets lodged in the shell of the oyster.   The oyster then secretes a substance to protect itself against the irritation caused by that piece of sand, and this secretion then hardens to become a pearl.   In a way, we were experiencing the process in reverse.   Our personalities were like pearls that formed at the time of our childhood, and hardened during the years in high school.   Our core being was intense and translucent as we graduated high school, but then years of the experiences of life have covered them with grit and sand which sometimes have obscured that light within.  

But then our conversations about the fun times we had and the crazy things we did acted like a sandblaster and I saw that pearl of personality shine forth again.   As Scott, Marty, and Rich and I talked about cars, dances, football games and other events that constellated our emotional lives back then, I could see that the essential spark of being that was reflected in our eyes and our smiles was as strong as it was back then, although our bodies and minds may have aged.

We were unique both as individuals and as a class, given the unique point of time when we graduated in relation to the flow of historical events of this country.   It was a privilege of a lifetime to be who we were; and I wanted to thank Scott, Tina and all of the others that have tried to contact the classmates of the class of ’75 in order to help us realize that.   

Surplus and Deficit in the Golden Age of Gas (part 3—China)

At the time being, China is heavily dependent on coal, with only 4% of energy consumption coming from natural gas.   However, there are two factors that are boosting the demand for LNG in China:

1)  the rapid demand for petroleum products in general for consumption by industry and consumers (i.e., rising ownership of automobiles), and

2)  environmental concerns, due to the fact that gas is relatively cleaner-burning than coal

The spectacular growth in consumption (from 87 Bcm in 2009 to 200 Bcm in 2013) will mean a sharp increase in imports (125 Bcm in 2020 to 212 Bcm by 2035).   For this reason, China is taking the following steps:

1)  currently securing supplies of gas from Central Asia (from Turkmenistan), Myanmar, and Russia,

2)  increasing LNG regasification terminals from 4 currently operating to 10

3)  exploring supply options from Asia-Pacific, and East Africa

Although China is still developing unconventional sources for gas (60-100 Bcm in shale gas by 2020), and has coal bed methane, China’s insatiable demand will end up shifting the demand in the global gas market from the OECD countries to Asia.



Surplus and Deficit in the Golden Age of Gas (part 2—EU)

1.  Reliance on imports

In Europe, as opposed to the US, oil production is in decline, and shale gas is not yet an option as it is in the US, so imports of oil and gas are required.  (BCM = billion cubic meters)

By 2020 consumption 627 BCM, production 259 BCM, with a shortfall of 368 BCM.

By 2035 consumption 671 BCM, production 204 BCM, with a shortfall of 467 BCM.

This shows the increasing reliance on Europe for imports of petroleum products.

2.  Import sources

Europe is located close to vast resources of natural gas, but geopolitics complicates access to some of these resources.   Iran is a source of petroleum products that could be available to the EU, but EU has decided not to accept imports from Iran in order to participate in the sanctions imposed by the US.   (For details, please refer to my earlier blog post    https://4squareviews.com/2012/04/09/iran-sanctions-just-right-or-a-step-too-far/).

There are currently three import sources that are under development.

1)  Nord Stream, originating in Russia, which is scheduled for completion in 2012 with a capacity of 55 BCM (billion cubic meters)

2) Nabucco, originating in Iraq and Turkmenistan, which is scheduled for completion in 2014 with a capacity of 31 BCM.

3)  South Stream, originating in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, which is scheduled for completion in 2015 with a capacity of 63 BCM.

3.  Shale oil potential

There is shale gas potential in Europe (France, Poland, and Norway) and in North Africa (Algeria and Libya).   However, shale gas in Europe unlikely to develop in the same way as in the US.   It will be available but in the longer term compared to the US (after 2015).

One of the reasons for this is that there is relatively more pressure on the governments of the EU regarding  environmental effects of shale gas production than there is in the US.

Tomorrow I will post on the portion of the webinar dealing with the oil and gas market in China.

Surplus and Deficit in the Golden Age of Gas (part 1—US)

On April 13th, 2012, Peter Kiernan, the Energy Analyst of the Economist Intelligence Unit, put on a webinar on the current state of supply and demand with respect to oil and gas in North America, Europe, and China.   The following are my notes of the webinar; I’m splitting the post into three parts, covering the three areas covered by the webinar as mentioned above.   I do not have a separate post for the Q&A session after the webinar as I had with previous EIU seminars, because I did not have a recording of that session available.   

Here are some trends with regard to natural gas in the United States, and its effect on other fossil fuels (oil, coal) and renewable energy sources.

1.  Shale gas boom

Shale gas is different than shale oil in that the natural gas is usually on top of a reservoir of shale oil, which usually means that it is more accessible than shale oil.

In the United States, natural gas production was on the decline before 2006, and was expected to become a major importer of LNG (liquefied natural gas), particularly from Canada.

However, since then proven shale gas reserves have increased and gas production itself has increased, to the point where shale gas now comprises 25% of total US gas production.   The supply has increased to the point where US is now expecting LNG.   Several LNG supply deals have concluded and LNG export terminals are under construction.

The shale gas boom and the relatively weak demand have led to lower prices for shale gas, and consequently a cut on production.

2.  Effect on shale oil

The shale oil that is more accessible is that found in tight or densely packed shale formations called light, tight oil or LTO.   Often this LTO is found in conjunction with natural gas which tends to rise to the top of the formation.   The gas production mentioned in paragraph 1 has therefore had a spillover effect on the increased production of LTO.   High oil prices make it profitable at this time to go after this type of oil.

Both shale gas and shale oil are considered unconventional supplies because they rely on methods such as fracking (or fracturing) of the shale in order to release the oil and gas contained therein.   High oil prices make the additional costs of these unconventional methods more economically viable.

3.  Effect on coal

As the US oil and gas production increase, the US dependence on coal production to meet its energy demands decreases.

4.  Effect on renewable energy

The lower prices on the production side (note we are not talking about lower gas prices that you are paying for at the gasoline pump) mean that renewable energy sources do have a role, but economic forces do not give incentive towards their development in the absence of government subsidies.

5.  Environmental scrutiny

One of the issues affecting oil and gas production in the US is the increasing environmental scrutiny attached to the fracking process, with the main short-term environmental hazards being the potential contamination of groundwater and increased earthquakes in production areas adjacent to fault lines, not to mention the long-term environmental hazards having to do with increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and its effect on climate patterns.

This increasing environmental scrutiny may pressure the US government to factor in some of these environmental impacts into decisions regarding the implementation of further shale development projects.     However, absent this political pressure, economic forces now favor an increased shift in the US from coal and oil production towards the production of natural gas, which is a relatively cleaner-burning fossil fuel.

Tomorrow I will post on the effect of shale gas and oil production in the EU.

Social Media as Literature—Story & Style (part 3)

The third literary style is the epic style where the writer presents the object in mediate relation to the (other) object(s).    This means that the writer presents the objects or facts while adding a layer of commentary or explanation, which mediates or interprets them.   This style is in direct contrast with the dramatic style (explained in part 2) that has no extra layer of commentary.   “Here are the facts, ma’am, and here’s what they mean.”   It focuses on the second-person viewpoint, as if the writer is addressing the audience with his comments.   Joseph Campbell in his lectures on James Joyce stated that Thomas Mann liked the epic style for his writings.   He compared James Joyce to Thomas Mann because they both used mythology in service of literature but used different literary styles to create their own unique “voice” in telling a story.

An example of the epic style from blogs regarding the Middle East would be from Informed Comment, the blog by Prof. Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.   In his blog post of April 18th, he is describing a recent appearance of Republican strategist David Frum on Erin Burnett’s program on CNN on April 17th.   He was stating the points where he agreed with David Frum, and the points where he disagreed with him.  But then he explained why he disagreed with him.

For example, he stated that David Frum was of the opinion that President Obama could affect the price of petroleum by offering more clarity on his Iran policy.   Prof. Cole disagreed with him, saying that the clarity of that policy is exactly what was contributing to higher prices, but he then went on to explain his position.   The policy of a financial embargo on the sale of Iranian petroleum sends a clear signal to an oil futures trader that Iranian petroleum will be taken off the market, and that future prices will rise.

So Prof. Cole says that President Obama’s policy should rather be more ambiguous to avoid such a negative signal to the market.   You may agree or disagree with his position, but you are in an informed position to comment on Prof. Cole’s opinion because he took the time to explain how he came to his conclusion.

I think this style is good for someone who is explaining a complex subject matter to those who may not be experts but rather educated laymen who are trying to learn about it.   In reality, however, a person may use both the epic or dramatic styles when blogging, with the dramatic or “newspaper” style used for tweets or for snapshots of a conference, let’s say, and the epic or “commentary” style used for longer blog posts or for explaining the topic to a general audience.

Social Media as Literature–Story & Style (part 2)

The second literary style you can use when blogging is the dramatic style where the writer presents the objects in direct relation to the other objects.   This means that the writer presents the facts in an objective manner without any explanation or commentary.  “Just the facts, ma’am.”  It focuses on the third-person viewpoint, and is what we think of as the “newspaper” voice.   

According to Joseph Campbell, James Joyce used the dramatic style for his work, which meant that he would describe in objective terms what the characters were doing, saying, or even thinking.   However, the drawback of not adding the author’s commentary on those descriptions is that the reader sometimes finds it hard to follow what is going on.

An example from blogs regarding the Middle East would be the blog post on April 16th on the Angry Arab News Service written by Prof. As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus and visiting professor at University of California at Berkeley.   It stated “All websites of Lebanese government have been hacked” without any further comment of explanation.   This is simply a statement of fact which can be independently verified.   He gives links to those websites so people can check it out for themselves.  Now I’m sure he has a subjective opinion about this incident but they are not stated in the post itself.  

I find this mode of blogging among experts who are doing blog posts or especially in tweets to each other.  They don’t have the space in 140 characters to provide explanations, and they usually don’t need to provide them if they are sending to people who are already “in the know”.   So I find this to be a good mode of blogging if you are trying to describe the events in a neutral of non-partisan manner, or if you are writing for a sophisticated audience for whom explanation might be superfluous.   

In reality, however, dramatic style is often mixed with the epic style, which I will describe in tomorrow’s post.