New book explores World War I and the Middle East

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, the fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, drew upon his doctoral research at Cambridge University and sifting of extensive archival materials to detail the lasting effects of the first World War in his new book, “The First World War in the Middle East.”

The book is a military and social history of the clash of world empires — the Ottoman Empire, Germany, Britain, France and Russia — in the Dardanelles, Egypt and Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia and the Caucasus. The book’s publication coincides with the upcoming centenary of the war’s start, July 28, 1914. It was published in the United Kingdom by Hurst and Co. this month and will be published in the United States by Oxford University Press in the fall.

Ulrichsen, who also is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre and an associate fellow at the British think tank Chatham House, said the impetus for the book grew out of a void. “My primary purpose in writing this book was that, surprisingly, no single-volume history of the wartime experience of the Middle East existed,” he said. “Campaign histories have tended to study the individual theaters in isolation from each other, and I wanted to integrate the study of the campaigns both in relation to each other and in terms of their impact on local society and the rapid changes that the region underwent politically and economically.”

Ulrichsen said the book shows how wartime pressures shaped the parameters of the modern Middle East. “The main message of the book is that it relates the study of the wartime experience into broader political, economic and social patterns of change,” he said. “The book demonstrates how the wartime experience fundamentally reshaped state-society relations across the Middle East and constituted a radical break with the colonial past. Similarly, the wartime attempts by the imperial belligerents to extend and deepen their control in order to regulate the mobilization of local resources accelerated the rise of powerful opposition movements that came to dominate the political reordering of postwar power, while the legacy of the secret agreements made during the war remains a potent and live issue a century on.”

Roger Owen, the A.J. Meyer Professor of Middle East History at Harvard University and author of “The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life,” said in his review that Ulrichsen has successfully advanced the study of first World War’s impact in the Middle East. “This is a splendid book we have long been waiting for: the first comprehensive account of the fierce fighting all over the Middle East during World War I,” Owen said. “As good on the logistical nightmares facing military planners in a region with few proper road and rail communications as it is on the set-piece battles at Gallipoli, Gaza and up and down the Tigris in Iraq.”

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.