Lesson 2: History in the Arab World
About this Lesson:
In the previous lesson, students explored the geography of the Arab world and the defining features that unite it. As students learn about the boundaries around the Arab world and the borders between countries, it is vital that they consider the origins of those borders (culturally and historically). Many factors contributed to the current political borders including internal dynamics and external forces. This lesson focuses on the Levant (the region of the Middle East including Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories), where many borders were shaped by European colonialism in the early 20th century.
100 minutes (2 class periods)
In this lesson, students will:
- watch the film, A History of Syria with Dan Snow (BBC, 2013).
- work together in groups to understand how events throughout history impacted the development of the region.
- read and analyze the Sykes Picot Agreement.
- Alawite: A sect of Shia Islam found predominantly in Syria. For more information, click here.
- Shia: A sect of Islam which believe that Mohammad’s cousin ‘Ali should have succeeded him in the Caliphate
- Sunni: The largest sect of Islam; Sunni Muslims believe that the Caliphate should have been determined by consensus. Click here to read about the differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
- Sykes-Picot Agreement: A secret agreement authored by Mark Sykes (British) and Francois George Picot (French) in 1915 creating borders and spheres of influence in the Middle East. Pronounced: Sikes-Peecoh
- The Arab world is defined by shared historical, geographical, religious and linguistic factors.
- The Arab world is a large and diverse region containing religious, political, geographic, ethnic, and linguistic differences.
Curriculum Framing Questions
- How does culture influence our thoughts and actions?
- What is the Arab World and what defines it (geography, language, culture etc)?
- Who is a part of the Arab World?
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
- identify relationships between historical periods in Syrian history.
- analyze a primary document to understand the impact of colonialism on the Levant.
Assessment & Evaluation of Student Learning:
- Complete historical era worksheet based on the BBC film, A History of Syria.
- Read and answer questions about the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
- Rewrite the Sykes-Picot agreement in a way that makes it inclusive of all Arab peoples.
Curriculum Standards Information
Reading: Informational Texts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3 Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
Reading: Informational Texts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2 Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
Review yesterday’s lesson and debrief on the Ansary reading by discussing the following questions as a group. Project a map of the Arab world and surrounding area to guide the discussion.
- Which regions from yesterday are relevant to the area Ansary addresses in his introduction?
- How does labeling the same area under a different name change the message that Ansary conveys?
- How can maps and their names reflect and/or inform a particular perspective?
Remind students that they should be careful to distinguish the “Arab World” from the “Middle East” and the “Islamic World.”
Bring the class back together and discuss the agreement, using the questions on the handout as a guide:
- Who are the players mentioned in the Sykes-Picot Agreement?
- Who wrote it and where are they from?
- Who or what is not mentioned?
- Regardless of any general knowledge that you may have of modern Syria, what do you anticipate the impact of an agreement like Sykes Picot would be?
- Would a document like this be possible to make in the present day political landscape? Why or why not? What would need to be different?
For more information about the Sykes-Picot Agreement, click here.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement was one of several treaties written to divide the land following WWI. Other documents include:
- The Hussein McMahon Agreement (1915-1916) (pronounced: McMan) “recognize[d] and support[ed] the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by [Hussein]”
- The Balfour Declaration (1917) affirmed the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
- The Treaty of Sevres (1920) divided the former Ottoman empire. For the full text, click here