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Dr Andrew Arsan to explore “European Order and Middle Eastern Disorder” as holder of visiting Chair in Brussels

College Fellow Dr Andrew Arsan has been appointed to a visiting post in Brussels, in which he will examine how the gradual movement towards European integration from the early 19th Century also profoundly influenced developments in the Middle East.

Dr Arsan, who is University Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History at Cambridge, has been named the latest holder of the Ganshof van der Meersch Chair at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. The post is named after Walter Jean Ganshof van der Meersch, who was a lawyer, judge and Government minister as well as an academic, and president of the Institute for European Studies at the ULB.

During his tenure, Dr Arsan will explore a thesis that efforts to preserve the peace and stability of Europe from the age of Napoleon onwards not only determined the future of that continent, but helped to define the system of global governance that exists today. His particular focus will be the Middle East, which he suggests was closely linked to this “prehistory” of European integration during the century and a half between Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

During that time, Dr Arsan argues, Europe’s existing and emerging states made several attempts to forge a common front and avoid conflict – efforts which would eventually lead to the closer union that emerged during the latter half of the 20th Century.

As they tried to bring stability to their own continent, however, successive generations of statesmen also tried to understand the root causes of apparently endemic disorder in the Middle East, questioning whether that was due to the perceived “despotism” of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, or its religious and ethnic diversity.

They were also concerned with how to contain the region, and whether that should involve direct rule or self-government. Competing European interests in the area were seen as a threat to Europe’s own stability; the question of how to curb the ambitions of powers such as Germany and Russia in the Middle East became a central part of diplomatic considerations when attempting to preserve the balance of power in Europe.

Through nine seminars running up to the end of this month, Dr Arsan will explore how the Middle East became a key consideration in European affairs, from the origins of the “Eastern question” during the Napoleonic era, through to the emergence of the European Economic Community, and thereafter Union, in the later 20th Century.

In between, the course will trace the story of that relationship by following, in particular, a series of conferences, commissions and international bodies which introduced new mechanisms of international law; new means of humanitarian, financial and political intervention; new ideas about sovereignty and governance; and new approaches to governing minorities and helping refugees.

Dr Arsan is a political, cultural and intellectual historian of the modern Middle East and of French and British imperialism. He was born in Beirut, grew up in Paris and London, and came to St John’s as an undergraduate studying History. He is now a Director of Studies in History at St John’s, where he teaches World History and runs a paper for the History Faculty on the Middle East. His books include Interlopers of Empire: The Lebanese Diaspora in Colonial French West Africa, which was a joint winner of the 2014 Royal Historical Society Gladstone Prize.

For more information about the Ganshof van der Meersch Chair at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, click here.