Finding information on the history of the Middle East

This page has some ideas and sources for finding information on the history of the Middle East. It may be helpful for students in courses such as HIST 151, HIST 249, HIST 350, HIST 354, HIST 355, HIST 457, and more. 

If you need help, please contact Baharak Yousefi, Librarian for History, International Studies, Graduate Liberal Studies, Political Science at or or Ask a librarian.

Ways to look for academic sources

Book covers by ISBNs: 9780813349800

This section outlines some tips and strategies you can use when searching for information in academic sources. To learn more or to get more search ideas, see the Library Catalogue search guide or the general Help pages.

Generating search terms

To come up with terms that you can use to start searching, think about the topic or title of your project and decide on the most important words. For example:

  • How did Arab nationalism lead to the Syrian revolt against French colonialism in the 1920s?

Next, take some time to think of any related terms or ideas. Examples here might be revolution in addition to revolt or identity in addition to nationalism. As you search, try different combinations of these words, and look for other words that may also describe your topic. You may find that the results you get change significantly based on which words you use.

Also keep in mind that the words used to describe something may have changed over time. You can get more ideas for search terms from background sources or articles on your topic.

When searching the Library Catalogue and most databases, you can use the filters on the left side of your search results to narrow your results by resource type, date published, and more. Narrowing your results by date can be especially helpful as one way to find primary sources from a certain year or era.

Using AND, OR, asterisks, and quotation marks with your search terms can also help you focus your search and get different combinations of results.

  • Searching for  Syria AND revolution will connect these different ideas and show results that contain both of them anywhere in the text.
  • Searching for  revolt OR revolution will connect these related words and show results that contain either of them.
  • Searching for coloni* will search colonial, colonized, colonization, colonialism, etc.
  • Searching for "Arab nationalism" will only show results where these two words appear together.

You can also use some of these techniques in general web searches. For more examples, see the Library Catalogue search guide to power searching.

Using subject headings

Book covers by ISBNs: 9786612917868

Once you have found a book or article that works for you, you can sometimes use the subject headings for that item to find similar materials. Subject headings are specific phrases that are assigned to items. Searching for subject headings can often give more relevant results than searching by keyword.

You can find and click on subject headings in the records for many items. You can also search for subject headings using the Advanced Search in the Library Catalogue and in many databases. Here are a few examples of subject heading searches for this area:

Places to look for information

Background sources

Background sources can be helpful if you are trying to get quick facts or basic information about important ideas, people, events, and more. Some examples in this area include:

Book covers by ISBNs: 0745632025

To look for information from other background sources, search for your terms in the Library Catalogue and select 'Reference Entries' from the Resource Type filter on the left side of the results. You can also see the pages on general Background reference sources and Background information for History.

    Article databases

    Databases are collections of information that often deal with a specific topic or type of resource and can include academic articles, newspaper articles, reports, images, and more. Searching in databases can give you more focused sets of results, though you may notice some overlap with the Library Catalogue. Here are some suggested databases for this area:

    • Confidential Print: Middle East, 1839-1969
      This collection covers a broad sweep of history from c. 1839 to 1969, taking in the countries of the Arabian peninsula, the Levant, Iraq, Turkey and many of the former Ottoman lands.
    • Oxford Islamic Studies Online
      Contains reference entries, book chapters, Qur'anic materials, Concordance of the Qur'an, primary sources, maps, images, and timelines on Islamic Studies.
    • Index Islamicus
      The international classified bibliography of publications in European languages on all aspects of Islam and the Muslim world. It provides access to research published since 1906 in the field of Islamic Studies.
    • International Medieval Bibliography
      Aims to providing a comprehensive, current bibliography of articles in journals and miscellaneous volumes worldwide.
    • Empire Online
      Empire Online is a collection of over 70,000 images of original manuscripts and printed material, 1492-1969, taken from libraries and archives around the world, including Africa, the Americas, Australasia, Oceania, and South Asia.
    • Human Relations Area Files: World Cultures
      Ethnographic documents on world cultures. Browse by region.
    • Historical Abstracts
      Abstracts of journal articles, book reviews, dissertations on the history of the world, excluding Canada and the United States, since 1450.
    • JSTOR
      An archival collection of scholarly journals mainly in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

    You can also look at the full list of History databases. Depending on your topic, you might also want to check databases for other fields, such as ____. To find these, go to the main Article databases pages and pick the field you want from the dropdown menu in the first box.

    Primary source databases

    For primary sources in this area, see Primary Sources for the Middle East. You may also be interested in the Primary Sources: Definition and Resources page.

    Additional sources