Monday, September 8, 2014

Roderic Davison Tells Us How the Middle East Got to Be Where It Is Today

Recently I had the misfortune to read two articles that sought to explain the history of the "Middle East" a geographic construct. Both argued at length that the term "Middle East" was an externally imposed one, reflecting the strategic interests of Western powers rather than the perspectives of the region's inhabitants themselves. So far so good. But neither article bothered to explain exactly what strategic interests led to the region being defined the way it is today, or why Western powers didn't impose some other definition of the region. Fortunately, Roderic Davison does in his 1960 "Where is the Middle East." Davison elegantly explains how the original division between Near and Middle East gave way to our present-day use of the Middle East to refer to the whole region. And by following the writer's dictum "show, don't tell," Davison also offers a reminder that you can be far more radical by using words and research to actually say something than by using Foucauldian jargon and insinuation to say nothing.  Anyways, you can read the whole article here. Basically, Davison explains how the breakdown of the Near East Middle East split seen in the map above broke down with the fall of the Ottoman Empire and British colonization of the Levant: