The area we know today as Iraq has long been known for its oil reserves. Natural springs of crude oil had astonished travellers to the Upper Tigris region since Antiquity: a curiosity, unrefined crude was used medicinally, and as a lubricant for cart axles. In the fifty years after 1890, however, improvements in refining and other technologies saw oil supplant coal as the fuel driving economic development. The race was on to claim the oil reserves of a region variously known as Mesopotamia, Al Jazeera and Iraq. Oil was first struck there in 1927. By then it was clear that oil had become the determining factor in the development of the Middle East as a whole. Like an obsidian mirror, oil reflected the dreams of progress and profit which sultans and sheikhs, shareholders and citizens alike invested in "black gold." In this module we will be considering the impact of oil on the Middle East, as well as on the western powers (Britain, France, Germany and the United States) and the oil companies drawn to it by their insatiable thirst for power. The resulting alliances and rivalries continue to shape the region’s fortunes. Oil has proved to be as troublesome to hold as it is to acquire. To borrow a Persian proverb, "oil burns the hands."
Aims and Objectives
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- Critically analyse different types of evidence for this theme
- Demonstrate awareness of scholarly trends and debates in the study of the middle east
- Assess how the trade in oil has impacted on societies, cultures and economies
Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:
- the role of oil in relations between imperial powers and oil-producing nations.
- the emergence of the modern Middle East from the Ottoman Empire
Transferable and Generic Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- apply a range of concepts such as energy security and “informal empire” in other historical contexts.
- sift public as well as corporate archival material for evidence in support of an argument.
Oil shaped the borders of the new Middle East which emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in the years after 1918. This was certainly true of the British mandate of Iraq (1920), which became an independent Kingdom (1932) and eventually, at the close of our period, a Republic (1958). In this course we will focus on Iraq and on the Iraq Petroleum Company (established 1912), a consortium which brought together the companies we know as ExxonMobil, BP, Total and Shell. IPC's activities ranged beyond Iraq, however, and so we will also consider the development of oil in the neighbouring Persian Empire/Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states.
At the centre of our discussions will be negotiations over the right to explore and exploit oil. How were royalties and other concession terms set? To what extent were the Great Powers, the oil companies and the oil-producing states able to cajole, coerce or co-opt each other? What was the relationship between these oily discussions and broader concerns, such as inter-ethnic relations within Iraq, the stability of the Iraqi regime and the balance of power between the UK and Russia (later, between the US and the Soviet Union)? Did the presence of oil prove a blessing or a curse to the wider development of Iraq and its neighbours?
Learning and Teaching
Teaching and learning methods
Teaching methods include
Seminars based on close reading of a series of different archival sources, providing various perspectives on a single negotiation or event
Learning activities include
Analysis of selected key readings in the historiography and, where appropriate, from other disciplines such as International Relations.
Preparatory reading and individual study
Individual participation in seminars
Engagement in role play and debate
|Completion of assessment task||100|
|Preparation for scheduled sessions||72|
|Total study time||300|
Resources & Reading list
Geoffrey Jones (1981). The State and the Emergance of the British Oil Industry. London: Macmillan.
Fiona Venn (1986). Oil Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
James Bamberg (1994). The Anglo-Iranian Years, 1928-54 v. 2 of The History of the British Petroleum Company. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Irvine H. Anderson (1981). ARAMCO, the United States and Saudi Arabia: a study of the dynamics of foreign oil policy, 1933-1950. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Gregory P. Nowell (1995). Mercantile States and the World Oil Cartel, 1900–1939. Ithaca: NY.
J. Crystal (1990). Oil and Politics in the Gulf: Rules and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Madawi Al-Rasheed (2002). A History of Saudi Arabia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
George Philip (1994). The Political Economy of International Oil. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
F. Anscombe (1997). The Ottoman Gulf: the Creation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, 1871-1914. New York: Columbia.
Ervind Abrahamian (2008). A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge: CUP.
Daniel Yergin (1991). The Prize: the epic quest or oil, money and power. New York: Free Press.
Joost Jonker and Jan Luiten van Zanden (2007). A History of Royal Dutch Shell v. 1 From Challenger to Joint Industry Leader, 1890-1939 and v. 2 Powering the Hydrocarbon Revolution 1939-73. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
M. Şükrü Hanioğlu (2008). A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Feroz Ahmad (1993). The Making of Modern Turkey. London: Routledge.
Ronald W. Ferrier (1982). The History of the British Petroleum Company Vol. 1 The developing years, 1901-1932. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
George Sweet Gibb, Evelyn H. Knowlton et al (1956-1971). History of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) v. 2 The Resurgent Years 1911-1927 and v. 3 New Horizons 1927-50. New York: HarperCollins.
Peter Sluglett (2007). Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country. London: I. B. Tauris.
Marian Kent (1976). Oil and Empire: British Policy and Mesopotamian Oil 1900-1920. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
John A. DeNovo (1963). American Interests and Policies in the Middle East, 1900-1939. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
This is how we’ll formally assess what you have learned in this module.
This is how we’ll assess you if you don’t meet the criteria to pass this module.
An internal repeat is where you take all of your modules again, including any you passed. An external repeat is where you only re-take the modules you failed.
Repeat type: Internal & External