History of the Centre

History of the Centre

The Middle East Centre of St Antony’s College is the centre for the interdisciplinary study of the modern Middle East in the University of Oxford.  Centre Fellows teach and conduct research in the humanities and social sciences with direct reference to the Arab world, Iran, Israel and Turkey, with particular emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

       The Kirdar Building at 68 Woodstock Road   The Kirdar Building and the Investcorp Building view from Woodstock Road   Investcorp building entrance at 62 Woodstock Road to Middle East Centre library and archive

The Centre was founded in 1957.  The directorship was assumed the following year by the modern historian Albert Hourani, who was to play a dominant role in establishing Middle Eastern studies in Oxford.  One of the first Fellows recruited to the Centre was Elizabeth Monroe who played an important role in establishing the Middle East Centre Archive in 1961.  They were joined in 1961 by Geoffrey Lewis as Lecturer in Islamic studies and Turkish.

The 1960s witnessed the introduction of a new postgraduate course in modern Middle Eastern studies (the B.Phil. in 1961, the precursor of the current M.Phil.) and the creation of a raft of new posts with British government funding.  Roger Owen was appointed in Economic and Social History, Robert Mabro in Economics, Peter Lienhardt in Sociology, Mustafa Badawi in Modern Arabic, John Gurney in Persian History.  Derek Hopwood was appointed Bibliographer and subsequently Lecturer in Middle Eastern studies.  Under Albert Hourani’s guidance, Oxford emerged as one of the leading centres for the study of the Middle East in the English-speaking world.

               Albert Hourani, the first director of the Middle East Centre of St Antony's College   Elizabeth Monroe one of the first Fellows of the Middle East Centre of St Antony's College   Geoffrey Lewis, joined the Middle East Centre in 1961 as a Lecturer

The original fellowship of the Middle East Centre has proved remarkably enduring, though new members have joined over the years.  Mr Hourani was succeeded by Hamid Enayat following his retirement in 1979.  Avi Shlaim, Professor in International Relations, was attached to the Centre given his research interests in the Middle East.  Celia Kerslake succeeded Professor Lewis as fellow in Turkish.  Eugene Rogan was appointed to the lectureship in modern Middle Eastern history.  Philip Robins was elected to a new post in the politics of the Middle East. Walter Armbrust was appointed to the Albert Hourani Fellowship and succeeded Derek Hopwood as University Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern Studies.

New endowments have enabled the Centre to expand its fellowship in recent years. Dr Michael Willis was appointed to the H.M. King Mohammad VI Chair in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies through a most generous benefaction from the Moroccan British Society. Professor Tariq Ramadan was appointed to the H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Chair in Contemporary Islamic Studies through a magnanimous benefaction from the Qatar Foundation. In 2011, the Centre welcomed Dr Laurent Mignon joins us as Fellow in Turkish, following the retirement of Celia Kerslake.

Originally based in a Victorian house on the Banbury Road, the Centre has been housed in the former Rectory of the Church of SS. Philip and James (built 1887) at 68 Woodstock Road since 1978.  2015 saw the provision of increased day-to-day working space for the  Middle East Centre with the opening of the Investcorp Building to house the increasing library and archive material, as well as provide for a lecture theatre and gallery space.