The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the Middle East. When you finish this course you will be able to think and speak effectively about the Middle East, particularly about relationships between villagers, nomads and city folk; about the environmental history of the region; about management of modern environmental problems such as water shortages; about the civilization of Islam; about the geographies of sacred places; about the reasons for war; and about the need for peace.

            We will examine the environmental history of the region. We will look at the natural resources of the region and at the adaptations of peasants, pastoral nomads and ancient urbanites to local environments. We will learn about the roots of the faith and culture of Islam, and the sacred places of Sinai and Jerusalem. The Arab-Israeli conflict will occupy much of our effort. We will pay special attention to the Palestinian-Israeli troubles. We will examine the reasons for American involvement in the Middle East (particularly in Iraq and in the war on terrorism), and look at political and environmental problems related to growing human populations and diminishing water.

            We will cover many topics that you might think have nothing to do with geography. Geography, however, is much more than place names and major industries. Peoples' cultures, religions, world views and politics affect the landscape. It would be impossible to understand the region without considering these factors.

            Geography as a discipline is an ideal vehicle for understanding problems and finding solutions in the troubled Middle East. Geography's great strength as a science is its holistic perspective, integrating understanding of people with understanding of the natural environment. Using geographic perspectives, in this class we will understand where the Middle East has been as a region, and where it is headed. We will then be in a good position to propose alternatives: how to achieve peace, how to achieve a more equitable distribution of scarce water resources, how to help an ignorant world become better informed about the complexity this critical region.

            Throughout the course I will discuss the purposes and methods of doing research in the Middle East, so that you might learn something about the role of social science in general and geography in particular in analyzing regional problems and proposing solutions to them.

            In this class you will see much of the Middle East. There will be slides and films which will bring images of this part of the world and its problems to your critical eye. View these actively; engage yourself in these images and ask questions about them. Try to develop a way of "reading" the landscapes of the Middle East. Think about travelling to some of these places. Then go to them...

            You are invited to improve the course by suggesting what is working and what is not. Although this class follows a lecture format, you may ask questions and volunteer opinions at any time. Discussion is an absolutely vital part of the learning process, but it will not happen unless you make it happen. There is no such thing as a foolish question -- if you want to know, ask! If you know the answer to someone's question, or want to express an opinion, speak!

            This will be a very challenging, sometimes very difficult, course. No fooling -- if you are looking for an easy class, this is not it. The reading assignments will sometimes be heavy. The tests will be very, very, very thorough, and essay questions on them will require you to think critically and write clearly. If you decide to take this class, you are making a commitment to face some very challenging tests. This is the essence of what previous students have said about the tests in this class: "every one of them is like a final exam." You will be asked to answer a long combination of multiple choice, essay, true/false, fill in the blank, matching and map questions in a rather short time. That means you have to “hit the ground running” on these tests; you will not have a lot of time to reflect before you start writing. You must study thoroughly for these tests and be prepared for them!

            Your grade will be based on your performance on the three tests, with each comprising one third of your final grade (see attached description of the grading system).  You must take the tests on the scheduled dates. If you miss the test you will receive a failing grade on that test. No paper or other outside work may substitute for the tests. Cheating will result in an "F" in the course and possible academic suspension, so don't do it!

            Attendance in the class is required. A formal attendance record may be kept. Repeated absences will be noticed, and in accordance with M.U. regulations these will diminish your grade, even if you are performing well on the exams. Any absence will certainly affect your grade, as much material on the exams will be based exclusively on lecture and will not be found in your readings. Please take this warning seriously: if you choose to skip a lecture, you choose to sacrifice a considerable chunk of your score on a test. Come to class!

            And, do not come late to class. It is impolite and disruptive. You will also miss important information and announcements concerning changed assignments, new material and tips for studying for tests. If you cannot come to class on time, you should not be enrolled in this course. Being late or absent, or being disruptive or inattentive in class, will result in my issuing Dean Ted Tarkow an “Early Alert” report about you (see the attached form at the end of this syllabus).

            If you are having trouble in the class, you need to come and see my early on to talk about it. Don’t wait until it is too late to have me advise you about how to do better!

            If you have a disability and need accommodations, please notify me as soon as possible. You may also contact the Access Office, A048 Brady Commons, telephone 882-4696.

Office: 5 Stewart Hall.

Office Hours, tentative: Tuesday, 11:20-12:20 and 3:20-4:20, and Thursday, 11:20-12:20 You may see me in the office at these times or make an appointment for another time. Don't think of a visit to my office as an imposition on me -- I am there for you.

Telephone: 882-0586

E-mail. Feel free to use it. I usually check it once a day:

Class Web Sites. I will require you to use them from time to time. Please take advantage of the computer labs on campus if you do not have one at home. The URL for my home page is   Scroll down to “Geography of the Middle East.” We will also be using WebCT, especially for grades (

Reserve Readings Web Site. Use of this site is required. In order to save you money -- a lot of money!-- I will post as many assigned readings as possible on MU’s Electronic Reserves System (ERES). The URL is You can get to the course web page by scrolling through the list of courses or instructors. Or, just get to the page using the class web site address, list above. The Geography 3270 page is password-protected. The password is: mideast

ERES saves you money because you do not have to pay for the royalty and copying fees that you would if these readings were in your course manual. Remember, the readings on this site are your assigned readings, and it is your responsibility to go online and read them (of course, you can print them out for convenience if you like).


Required Texts (available in the University Bookstore at Brady Commons):

-Hobbs,  Joseph. 2005. Course Manual for Geography of the Middle East. M.U. Bookstore Custom Publication.

-Held, Colbert. 2006. Middle East Patterns (Fourth Edition). Boulder: Westview.

-Congressional Quarterly. 2006. The Middle East (Tenth Edition). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

-Atlas of the Middle East. 2003. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

            You  will also be required to read articles in your course manual and on reserve at  Ellis Library.

            Be sure to bring your Course Manual, Atlas and the relevant readings to each class meeting.

            Here is the tentative lineup (subject to change) of lectures this semester. Events in the Middle East can change rapidly, and it is possible that this syllabus would be changed dramatically. One fourth or more of the syllabus could be completely revised to a new focus on current events.




1. Tuesday, August 23

Introduction to the Course


2. Thursday, August 25

Landscapes of the Middle East


3. Tuesday, August 30

The Natural History of Middle Eastern Deserts


4.  Thursday, September 1

The Ecological Trilogy, I: Village Life


5. Tuesday, September 6

The Ecological Trilogy, II: Pastoral Nomadism


6. Thursday, September 8

The Ecological Trilogy, III: Urban Life


7. Tuesday, September 13

An Introduction to Islam, I


8. Thursday, September 15

An Introduction to Islam, II: Field Trip to the Islamic Center


9. Tuesday, September 20

An Introduction to Islam, III


10. Thursday, September 22

Sinai, The God-Walking Mountain


11. Tuesday, September 27

Test One




12. Thursday, September 29

No Test, Due to Professional Meeting


13. Tuesday, October 4



14. Thursday, October 6

The Arab-Israeli Conflict I


15. Tuesday, October 11

The Arab Israeli Conflict II


16. Thursday, October 13

The Arab Israeli Conflict III


17. Tuesday, October 18

The Peace Process I


18. Thursday, October 20

The Peace Process II


19. Tuesday, October 25

Discussion: How to Get There


20. Thursday, October 27

Test II




21. Tuesday, November 1

Problems of Population and Urbanization, I


22. Thursday, November 3

Problems of Population and Urbanization, II


23. Tuesday, November 8

Getting to Know al-Qa’ida and the Militant Islamists


24. Thursday, November 10

Getting to Know al-Qa’ida, Part II


25. Tuesday, November 15

The Geography of Oil


26. Thursday, November 17

The U.S. Occupation of Iraq


Tuesday, November 22 and Thursday, November 24

Thanksgiving Break!


27. Tuesday, November 29

The Geography of Human Trafficking: Case Study Middle Eastk


28. Thursday, December 1

Water Problems, I: The Aswan High Dam


29. Tuesday, December 6

Discussion and Preparation for the Final Exam


30. Thursday, December 8

No Class, Due to Fulbright Middle East Service


31. Monday, December 12

10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., Parker Auditorium (Stewart 100).

Final Exam.






Grading System for Geography 3270


            Here's how it works:

            Generally, your score on an exam will be graded as 90-100 points, A range; 80-89 points, B range; 70-79 points, C range; 60-69 points, D range; and below 60, F range (yes, there is an F+!). Sometimes if test results suggest the test was too hard, I will adjust accordingly. Your score on each test will be assigned points that correspond with your actual letter grade on that test. Here's the scale that will be used:

A+       13 points

A         12 points

A-        11 points

B+       10 points

B         9 points

B-        8 points

C+       7 points

C         6 points

C-        5 points

D+       4 points

D         3 points

D-        2 points

F+       1 point

F          0


Your final grade will correspond to the total points of the three tests, divided by 3. That number's letter equivalent is the final grade. (So, if you had an A+,  C and B+ on your four exams, you'd have 13,  6 and 10 points, totaling 29; divided by 3, 9.66 points; rounded up to 10 points = B+, final grade). Please see me if you have any questions about the grading system. Remember that with this system it is possible for all of you to get A's. That would give me great pleasure, so try your best!