Islamic Empires, 1400 - 1800

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Gagan D. S. Sood. SAR 2.07


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Economic History and Geography, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics 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 transformations wrought by the Mongols in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, there rose the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires in the Near East, Iran and India. These ‘Islamic’ empires would go on to rank among the wealthiest and most powerful regimes of 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, breaching new frontiers. By the eighteenth century, however, the empires had been reduced to shadows of their former selves, with power monopolised by a kaleidoscope of smaller regimes vying with each other for supremacy. This struggle paved the way for the region’s later subjugation to 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 to which they belonged, from their formation in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries to the ‘unscripted possibilities’ of the eighteenth century. We will study the ways in which temporal power was institutionalised; the patterns of daily life found in urban and rural settings, as well as on the frontier; Islam in theory and in practice, and its relationship to the region’s other major religious traditions; diplomacy within and without the Islamic world; the prevailing 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; the eighteenth-century demise of the Islamic empires; and the concomitant rise of successor regimes which shaped the paths to modernity embarked upon within the region.


Lectures will be online. The School aims to run in-person classes, subject to circumstances, with some online provision if and where necessary.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

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, UK, 2010)

Richard M. Eaton, India in the Persianate Age, 1000-1765 (Allen Lane, 2019)

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, UK, 2005)

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

John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire (Cambridge, UK, 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, UK, 2016)


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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