Islamic Empires, 1400 - 1800

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Gagan D. S. Sood


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.



Course content

Following the Mongol upheavals of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires arose in India and the Islamic heartlands. These ‘Islamic’ empires would go on to rank among the wealthiest and most powerful regimes known to the early modern world. Supported by an array of provincial and local elites, they were at the zenith of their power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, spanning a region that extended from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Bengal, from Yemen to the Crimea. Their populations were producers, consumers, importers and exporters of goods critical for global trade; their location accorded them a vital role in the flow of ideas and information; there was a remarkable flowering of the arts in the period; and conversion to the region’s dominant religious tradition, Islam, continued apace, forging new frontiers. By the eighteenth century, however, the Islamic empires had been reduced to shadows of their former selves, with power devolved to a variety of successor regimes vying with each other for supremacy. It is this struggle that paved the way for the region’s later incorporation into Europe’s global empires of modern times, and the emergence of today’s Middle East and South Asia.

This course will examine the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, and the larger world of which they were part, from their origins in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries to their ‘decline’ in the eighteenth. We will study how temporal authority was expressed symbolically and through governance; the patterns of daily life found in urban and rural settings, and on the frontier; Islam in theory and in reality, and its relationship to the region’s other major religious traditions; diplomacy within and without the Islamic world; the new techniques and technologies of warfare; inherited and collective knowledge of other lands, near and far, and the everyday movement of people, goods and news; the signal achievements in the literary, visual and architectural realms; secular changes to the region’s societies and economies; early modern millenarianism, fundamentalism and reformism; and the reasons for the eighteenth-century demise of the Islamic empires as world powers.


10 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 2 hours of classes in the ST.

In the ST, there will be a mock exam (1 hour) and revision class (1 hour). There will be a reading week in both MT and LT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to submit two 2000-word essays (one in MT, one in LT), give an oral presentation in class, and sit a 1-hour mock exam in ST.

Indicative reading

Christopher A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Oxford, 2004)

Stephen F. Dale, The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals (Cambridge, 2010)

Joseph F. Fletcher, ‘Integrative history: Parallels and interconnections in the early modern period, 1500-1800’, Journal of Turkish Studies 9 (1985), 37-57

Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power (2nd edn, New York, 2009)

Ira M. Lapidus, ‘State and religion in Islamic societies’, Past & Present 151 (1996), 3-27

Rudi P. Matthee, Persia in Crisis: Safavid Decline and the Fall of Isfahan (London, 2012)

Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (Cambridge, 2005)

David Morgan, Medieval Persia, 1040-1797 (London, 1988)

John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire (Cambridge, 1993)

Francis Robinson, ‘Ottomans-Safavids-Mughals: Shared knowledge and connective systems’, Journal of Islamic Studies 8:2 (1997), 151-184

Gagan D. S. Sood, India and the Islamic Heartlands: An Eighteenth-Century World of Circulation and Exchange (Cambridge, 2016)


Exam (90%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Class participation (10%) in the MT and LT.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2015/16: 29

Average class size 2015/16: 14

Capped 2015/16: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills