Gelvin, James L. 1951–

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Gelvin, James L. 1951–


Born February 12, 1951.


Office—Department of History, University of California, 6265 Bunche Hall, Box 951473, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1473. E-mail—[email protected]


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), professor of history.


Faculty excellence award, UCLA chapter, Mortar Board National Senior Honor Society, 1998; faculty fellow, UCLA Center for American Politics and Public Policy, 2006-07; Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association (ALA), 2006, for The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War; president's research fellowship in the humanities, University of California, 1999-2000; fellowship, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1999-2000; UCLA academic senate grant, annually, 1998—; faculty research grant, UCLA department of history, 2003; research grant, G.E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies, 2003; Title VI travel/research grant, U.S. Department of Education, 2004.


Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2005, 2nd edition, 2007.

The Modern Middle East: A History, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005, 2nd edition, 2008.

Contributor to books, including The Invention of Religion: Rethinking Belief and Politics in History, edited by Derek R. Peterson and Darren Walhof, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2002; and The Waking Dream of T.E. Lawrence: Essays on His Life, Literature, and Legacy, edited by Charles Stang, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002. Contributor to journals, including Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, Global Development Studies, International History Review, Nations and Nationalism, World Affairs, International Journal of Middle East Studies, and Journal of Interdisciplinary History; contributor of reviews to journals, including MESA Bulletin, International History Review, Journal of Palestine Studies, American Historical Review, Middle East Journal, International History Review, Political Science Quarterly, and British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.


James L. Gelvin is a professor of history whose interests, according to his home page on the University of California department of history Web site, include the "social and cultural history of the modern Middle East, particularly Greater Syria (the area of present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories) during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."

Gelvin has contributed both articles and book reviews to a number of journals and is the author of several books. The first, Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire, is a study of Damascus's transition from Ottoman to French rule between 1918 and 1920, and the attendant political chaos. Unlike previous histories that have concentrated on the ideas and actions of elites, Gelvin's explores nonelitist sentiment in nationalist politics during the early twentieth century following World War I, during which popular committees enabled a broader leadership that has carried over to present time. Gelvin draws on speeches, leaflets, editorials, rumors, and graffiti in documenting the creation of national communities, offering a history that will benefit anyone interested in nationalism, either in that region or in other parts of the world.

Hasan Kayali reviewed the volume in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, noting that the twenty-two-month period under study is frequently referred to as the era of "Arab government." Kayali wrote: "The designation suggests that a new sovereign authority replaced Ottoman imperial jurisdiction over Syria, drawing upon consummate Arab nationalist credentials and enjoying legitimacy by its promise of Arab unity. In the conventional view, such promise was frustrated by the avarice and double crossing, and ultimately neo-imperialist tutelage, of Britain and France. What this view obscures, Gelvin maintains and eloquently demonstrates, is the conflict between elite and popular groups concerning the nature of nationalism in Syria during this period."

Gelvin's The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War was first published in 2005 and a revised edition was published in 2007. This history, which was honored by the American Library Association, is an introduction for students and general readers to the century-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The chapters of the revised edition are titled "The land and its lure," "Cultures of nationalism," "Zionism and the colonization of Palestine," "World War I and the Palestine mandate," "From nationalism in Palestine to Palestinian nationalism," "From the Great Revolt through the 1948 War," "Zionism and Palestinian nationalism: a closer look," "The Arab-Israeli conflict," "The Palestinian National movement comes of age," and "Coming full circle: Oslo and its aftermath."

The first edition of the volume was reviewed by Foreign Affairs contributor L. Carl Brown, who commented on the fact that Gelvin makes use of seemingly insignificant facts to demonstrate larger points. These include the Jewish Pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair and a poem by a Palestinian poet. "Balanced, fair, and readable, this is a fine historical synthesis," concluded Brown. Neil Caplan wrote in the Middle East Journal, also of the first edition, that the book should "be recommended reading for those already familiar with the basics of the Israel-Palestine conflict. As an extended interpretative essay, it offers a thoughtful and sometimes provocative analysis of the conflict."

The Modern Middle East: A History, first published in 2005, and revised in 2008 to reflect the history of the region since the American occupation of Iraq, explores how, over five hundred years, elements of global modernity have impacted the political, economic, social, and cultural, life of the Middle East. Beginning with the sixteenth century, it examines the impact of imperialism, the nineteenth-century transformation, cultural change, international politics, economic trends, and the emergence of, and challenges to, authoritarian regimes.

In his introduction Gelvin comments on the historical aspects of the events of September 11, 2001, then offers four sections, each of which includes a number of documents to support the section. "Part 1: The Advent of the Modern Age" contains chapters titled "From Late Antiquity to the Dawn of a New Age," "Gunpowder Empires," "The Middle East and the Modern World System," and "War, Diplomacy and the New Global Balance of Power." "Part II: The Question of Modernity" includes chapters titled "Defensive Developmentalism," "Imperialism;" and "Wasif Jawhariyyeh and the Great Nineteenth-Century Transformation," and the photo essays "The Great Transformation," "The Life of the Mind," "Secularism and Modernity," and "Constitutionalism." "Part III: World War I and the Middle East State System" consists of chapters titled "State-Building by Decree," "State-Building by Revolution and Conquest," "The Introduction and Spread of Nationalism," and "The Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute." The chapters of "Part IV: The Contemporary Era" are titled "State and Society in the Contemporary Middle East: An Old/New Relationship," "Oil," "The United States and the Middle East," "Israel, the Arab States, and the Palestinians," "The Iranian Revolution," and "Islamic Political Movements." These are followed by "Conclusion: The Middle East in the ‘Age of Globalization.’"

Kevin W. Martin noted in Teaching History: A Journal of Methods that because Gelvin is a professor of history, a scholar of the Middle East region, and a much-honored teacher, "he is more qualified than most to produce a textbook for undergraduate surveys of the subject." Martin further commented on Gelvin's style, structure, and content, which he felt to be more understandable than other texts on the subject that, because of their detail, tend to overwhelm and discourage students who lack a basic understanding of the topic. Gelvin uses a traditional geographic framework that includes Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and the Arabian Peninsula, and follows a traditional chronology. Martin noted, however, that Gelvin describes events with long-term and global contexts, which Martin felt is effective in reaching his stated objectives. Martin praised Gelvin's liberal use of maps, primary-source documents, photographs, and anecdotes and jokes that he felt humanize Gelvin's history. Martin described The Modern Middle East as "elegantly yet lucidly written, thus mercifully free of jargon and other linguistic ‘innovations’ that so frequently plague academic prose and bewilder students." Martin concluded by declaring The Modern Middle East "the best text currently available."



American Historical Review, April, 2000, review of Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire, p. 651.

Choice, May, 1999, C.E. Farah, review of Divided Loyalties, p. 1674; June, 2006, B. Harris, review of The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War, p. 1886.

English Historical Review, June, 2007, Ritchie Ovendale, review of The Israel-Palestine Conflict, p. 853.

Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2006, L. Carl Brown, review of The Israel-Palestine Conflict, p. 169.

Historian, winter, 2006, David Commins, review of The Modern Middle East: A History, p. 819.

History: Review of New Books, spring, 2005, Cathlyn Mariscotti, review of The Modern Middle East, p. 117.

International Journal of Middle East Studies, February, 2001, Lisa Wedeen, review of Divided Loyalties, p. 146.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 2000, Hasan Kayali, review of Divided Loyalties, p. 149.

Journal of Third World Studies, fall, 2004, review of Divided Loyalties, p. 245.

Middle East Journal, spring, 2006, Neil Caplan, review of The Israel-Palestine Conflict p. 371.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2006, review of The Israel-Palestine Conflict.

Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, spring, 2007, Kevin W. Martin, review of The Modern Middle East, p. 55.


H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (March 26, 2008), Joel Beinin, review of The Israel-Palestine Conflict.

UCLA Department of History Web site, (March 26, 2008), faculty profile.