Economic History of the Middle East and North Africa

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Mohamed Saleh


This course is available on the BSc in Economic History, BSc in Economic History and Geography, BSc in Economic History with Economics and BSc in Economics and Economic History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The course explores the economic history of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Many, if not most, of MENA’s contemporary problems cannot be understood without a deep understanding of its history, not only during the postcolonial period, but also during the precolonial and colonial periods. The course will first introduce students to the definition of the MENA region, and the broad trends in its history since antiquity. It will then examine specific themes that are of great importance for understanding the economic history of the region, such as: how most of MENA’s population became Muslims in the Middle Ages? What do we know about MENA’s economic performance vis-à-vis Europe in the long run? How did “Islamic” institutions emerge? What legal rights did people have over land and labor? We will also discuss state-led development, inequality, education, socioeconomic inequality across ethnoreligious groups, and the demographic transition. Throughout the course, we will focus on the view from below, examining the living conditions, preferences, and behavior of local populations, rather than taking a macroeconomic perspective that studies MENA only in comparison to Europe. We will also emphasize the recent developments in MENA economic history based on novel data sources, including MENA local archives, papyrology, medieval chronicles, literary sources, and archeology. In terms of methods, the course will draw upon both qualitative and quantitative approaches to history, employing economic theory, econometric methods, novel data sources, and solid historical evidence.

Due to its interdisciplinary nature, this course should be of interest to students in economic history, economics, international history, political science, and international development.


10 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of classes in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay and 1 presentation in the MT and 1 presentation in the LT.

Indicative reading

1. Cuno, K. M. (1992). The Pasha’s Peasants: Land, Society, and Economy in Lower Egypt 1740–1858. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2. Fahmy, K. (1997). All the Pasha’s Men: Mehmed Ali, His Army and the Making of Modern Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

3. Saleh, M. (2018). “On the Road to Heaven: Taxation, Conversions, and the Coptic-Muslim Socioeconomic Gap in Medieval Egypt.” Journal of Economic History 78 (2): 394–434.

4. Chaney, E. (2013). Revolt on the Nile: Economic Shocks, Religion, and Political Power. Econometrica, 81(5), 2033-2053.

5. Kuran, T. (2012). The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

6. Owen, R. (2002). The Middle East in the World Economy, 1800-1914. London: I.B. Tauris.

7. Pamuk, S. (1987). The Ottoman Empire and European Capitalism, 1820–1913: Trade, Investment and Production. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

8. Artunç, C. (2015). “The Price of Legal Institutions: The Beratli Merchants in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Empire.” The Journal of Economic History, 75(3), 720-748.


Exam (70%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (30%, 3000 words) in the LT.

The relative weighting of the two modes of assessment follows agreed norms in the Department of Economic History, which are helpful in managing student expectations and workloads.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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