Arabia and the Arabs ae120-12 Prof. Ian Straughn

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Arabia and the Arabs – AE120-12

Prof. Ian Straughn

Semester II - 2007

Essay #1 Assignment

Due Monday 3/12 in class
1500 words (4-6 pages); title; double spaced; page numbers; rigorously edited; consistent citation format
Essay Topic:
Throughout this course we have seen two sides of a debate concerning the place of Arabia and the Arabs in the larger context of the Near East and Mediterranean worlds. That debate centers the question of whether this region and the peoples that inhabited it formed a crossroads of civilization or a periphery to the various states and empires such as the Romans, Persians and many others. For this paper I want you to argue for one side this debate. Was Arabia marginal to the rest of the world prior to Islam? Or were the nomadic groups, emergent states, and camel caravans important players in the political, economic and cultural world that surrounded the Peninsula and Syrian steppe which they occupied?
In arguing either side of this debate be sure to draw on specific examples from the archaeological and historical records which we have discussed in class or in the readings. As well, consider arguments such as those offered by scholars such as Bulliet in his discussion of the camel or Shahid with respect to Arab relations with Rome. One way to think about this question is to consider the ways in which external civilizations shaped the identities of those groups we have loosely referred to as the Arabs as opposed to the degree to which the Arabs shaped the histories and cultures of those civilizations.
To be sure there is no right or wrong answer to this debate. Instead what I am looking for is how you construct an argument and use evidence to support it. This can be done successfully with either position. The goal of this exercise is for you to develop the skills to make a convincing and well reasoned argument. In particular I want to see you accurately summarize arguments, link specific archaeological data to claims about social and political life, and organize your evidence around a clearly articulated thesis that expresses why either side of this debate is a more accurate portrayal of the historical reality.

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