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The University of Southampton

HUMA2016 Arabian Nights and Days: The World of the 1001 Nights

Module Overview

The disparate body of literature collected together under the title 1001 Nights, more popularly known as the Arabian Nights, is set primarily in the cities of the medieval Middle East, including Baghdad and Basra in Iraq, Cairo in Egypt and Damascus in Syria. The narratives include characters from all levels of society, from caliphs, princes, princesses and viziers, to poor men and women, as well as magical beings of various sorts. They recount great adventures and supernatural happenings; but among the more marvellous events appear many details of daily life, social activity and urban landscape. This module uses the 1001 Nights as a starting point for a thematic investigation of medieval Arab (largely urban) society.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the potential and problems of material, historical and literary sources;
  • scholarly models of medieval Middle Eastern society;
  • the historical construction of identities.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse conflicting views;
  • critically examine the presentation of Middle Eastern society in medieval sources and modern writing;
  • determine the importance or otherwise of key developments in thinking about the nature of medieval Middle Eastern society.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • handle a range of primary and secondary sources with an appropriate degree of sophistication;
  • show an increasing level of confidence in discussion and debate;
  • sustain an argument and explain your ideas in written work;
  • evaluate the contribution of different kinds of data to a single topic.


The module is organised thematically. Each week, we will consider a particular narrative or story taken from the 1001 Nights, within which a particular theme will be identified. This topic will be introduced during the lecture, with specific sources relating to the subject to be discussed in detail during the subsequent seminars. Themes may include: court/palace culture; social stratification and mobility; urban landscape and setting; trade and economic activity; gender; hospitality, social life, food/drink and dining; professions and professional activities; recent reception, Orientalism and cultural politics; and more.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Lectures • Classes/Seminars Learning activities include • Lectures • Classes/Seminars • Independent study

Wider reading or practice38
Completion of assessment task40
Follow-up work24
Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Irwin, R. (2009). The Arabian Nights: A Companion. 

Kennedy, H.N. (2004). The Court of the Caliphs: The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Greatest Dynasty. 

Warner, N.J. (2005). The Monuments of Historic Cairo. 

The Arabian Nights, trans. by Husain Haddawy from the edition by Muhsin Mahdi. 

Petry, C.F. (ed.) (1998). The Cambridge History of Egypt 1: Islamic Egypt, 640-1517. 

Milwright, M. (2010). Introduction to Islamic Archaeology. 

Northedge, A. & D. (2015). The Archaeological Atlas of Samarra: Samarra Studies II. 

Irwin, R. (2010). Mamluks and Crusaders: Men of the Sword and Men of the Pen. 

Bennison, A.K. (2009). The Great Caliphs: the golden age of the ‘Abbasid empire. 





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Source commentaries  (700 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Source commentaries  (2100 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Students are recommended to purchase their own copy of the edition of the Arabian Nights used for the module, which costs in the region of £13

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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