History provides an enduring and essential entry point to understanding the contemporary [Middle Eastern] region, its politics, and society.1
Despite the high demand on expert analysis on the Middle East due to continuing regional and international security issues, there is surprising little cooperation among the different political and historical disciplines dealing with the region. At the extreme, this trend on the one hand leaves excellent history projects on Middle Eastern society locked up in academic circles and unaccessible or useless for policy makers, who — as even undergraduate history majors will agree on, are in desperate need of profound analysis on the region’s dynamics. On the other hand, the policy recommendations provided by political scientist, although expressing expert opinion through the field’s methodological framework, often lack the resources to unravel the particularities of the cultural, political, social, and economic past of the societies they are navigating policy makers through.
Fortunately, the current state of the academic community does not display such an extreme polarity, however, intensified efforts to coordinate the expertise of the historical and political sciences in addressing the fundamental questions at the bottom of the current issues in the Middle East would certainly not harm, either. But why does the interdisciplinary approach, hailed across the humanities, shy from such a promising cooperation and instead abandons it at an embryonic stage?
The formation of the author might give a brief insight from a historian’ point of view. Firstly and most important, many historians are uncomfortable (to say the least) to engage on contemporary issues, despite the mutual agreement on the impossibility to answer the question on how much time should have had passed for a certain event to be called “history”. A small number of researchers on contemporary topics, therefore, leave few options for students who are potentially interested in such topics. This circle leaves the young prodigy with few possibilities but to engage in a parallel career in one of the political sciences, an option not too many are willing to consider. Especially for students specialising in contemporary history, however, a basic formation in the theoretical framework of the political sciences would be very recommendable.
Secondly, with regard to the limited number of programs, there are few incentives for young researchers to pursue a career that honours an interdisciplinary approach, as they might get caught between two stools when it comes to future employment at academic institutions.
However, the interdisciplinary’s structural restrictions at the same time reflects its biggest potential. Although there is little work on the Middle East that encompasses a true cooperation between the political and historical sciences, the academic community at the interface has issued calls from various corners and the interested researcher from either field will find that some groundwork has been done and basic introductions into the theoretical framework of the other field are readily available.
This project is designed to support the ambitious task of bridging the political and historical sciences when it comes to research on the Middle East. Firstly, the author’s own research papers and drafts are published on this page. Secondly, the results of the various projects and the literature are made available to provide likeminded colleagues engaging in similar projects with scientific recourses.
Nils E. Lukacs, May 2016