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Courses / Modules / HIST2216 Oil Burns The Hands: Power, Politics and Petroleum in Iraq, 1900-1958

Oil Burns The Hands: Power, Politics and Petroleum in Iraq, 1900-1958

When you'll study it
Semester 2
CATS points
ECTS points
Level 5
Module lead
Eleanor Quince
Academic year

Module overview

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."

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