Back to Napoleon? Thoughts on the Beginning of the Modern Era in the Middle East

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Abstract

This article resurrects an old and well-known problem of periodization: locating the beginning of the modern period in the Middle East. In the past quarter of a century or so it has been the focus of a debate that, though seldom articulated or presented as such, stands at the core of studies of the modern era. Two basic approaches have been offered. One, often described as Orientalist, has suggested that the modern period in the Arab Middle East was ushered in by Napoleon's invasion in 1798. Those who adopt this approach find a clear correlation between the invasion, emblematic of ‘the impact of the West’, and the beginnings of modernization and progress in a stagnant Middle East. The other, revisionist stance raises serious doubts about this correlation and suggests other timetables according to which modernity had its roots in the region itself or in continued interaction with the West before the arrival of the French revolutionary army. The article suggests a third option which takes into account new approaches to history that view modernity itself as a set of historical phenomena created mainly by and through the colonial encounter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-94
Number of pages22
JournalMediterranean Historical Review
Volume19
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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