Provence, Michael 1966-
Provence, Michael 1966-
Born August 8, 1966. Education: University of Chicago, Ph.D., 2001.
The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 2005.
Contributor of articles to scholarly books and journals, and to periodicals, including the San Diego Union and the Dallas Morning News.
Michael Provence is a professor of history who specializes in topics dealing with the colonial and postcolonial Arab world, particularly populist revolts, insurgency, and nationalism between World War I and World War II. In his first book, The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism, Provence, according to History reviewer James F. Chastain, "draws on previously neglected historical sources and largely unheard testaments to give a trenchant examination of one of the earliest Arab insurrections against European occupation." In 1925 local Syrian leaders staged the largest and also the longest-lasting revolt against European colonialism in the Middle East during the interwar period. This insurgency was broad-based, involving not simply urban intellectuals and nationalists, but also incorporating army veterans, simple farmers, and workers in its ranks. It was therefore, quite literally, the first mass movement in the Middle East striking out against European—in this case, French—colonialism. During the course of the two-year revolt, the French not only inflicted aerial bombardment on Damascus, but also struck heavily in villages around Damascus and Hamah, and also as far west as Rashayya in Lebanon. Though ultimately this revolt failed to rid the country of its French occupiers, it did provide a model for future insurgencies. Provence uses recently declassified French documents, memoirs, and individual accounts to tell the story of this momentous revolt from the point of view of the insurgents on the ground. Integral to the revolt was an entire generation of army veterans of middle- and lower-class backgrounds who had been well educated via a state-subsidized educational system. These men ultimately rebelled not only against the French, but also against the Syrian upper class and intellectuals who had made such colonial occupation possible. Thus, the Great Syrian Revolt represents the beginning of Arab popular nationalism. However, once the revolt was put down, the French along with their Syrian allies did as much as they could to suppress the true story of the insurrection. If it was told, the role of the army veterans who had led it was usually left out, and urban nationalists and leaders of nationalistic parties took credit for the uprising. "Provence's aim is to recover the history of these rebels," Mary Christina Wilson noted in the Middle East Journal.
Critical response to Provence's study was largely positive. Wilson felt that The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism was a "much-needed corrective" to historians who have "tended to regard French mandate rule benevolently, no doubt in reaction to the Lebanese Civil War and to Syria's present authoritarian government and its abuses." Wilson went on to conclude, "Provence's excellent book uncovers alternative histories and the potential for alternative historical outcomes." Other reviewers saw comparisons in Provence's analysis of events from 1925 to events in Iraq in the early years of the twenty-first century under American occupation. Writing in Middle East Policy, Bill Weinberg noted, "The comparison is nowhere made explicitly, but the subtext for most readers of Michael Provence's The Great Syrian Revolt will inevitably be the current situation in Iraq—even if it was not the author's intention." Weinberg further commented, "The irony is that Provence poses the 1925 revolt against French Mandate rule in Syria as the watershed event in the emergence of Arab nationalism. In Iraq, where Baathism is rapidly being superceded by Islamism in the vanguard of resistance to the occupation, we may be witnessing its death throes." Reviewing the same work, Chastain pointed out the lack of maps in the text, which would have been helpful in following the movement of the insurgency; otherwise, however, he had a positive assessment. He felt that the book's strongest point is its focus on the widespread support for the insurrection across Syria, comprising not the elite classes but the ordinary citizens of the country. Chastain further thought the book was "well researched and written," and that it represented a "significant contribution to the historical scholarship on the Syrian insurgency of 1925-26."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, June, 2006, Eliezer Tauber, review of The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism, p. 932.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 2006, James F. Chastain, review of The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism, p. 58.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, winter, 2007, Ira M. Lapidus, review of The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism, p. 504.
Middle Eastern Studies, March, 2007, Eyal Zisser, review of The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism, p. 331.
Middle East Journal, spring, 2006, Mary Christina Wilson, review of The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism, p. 403.
Middle East Policy, spring, 2006, Bill Weinberg, review of The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism, p. 149.
University of California San Diego Web site,http://historyweb.ucsc.edu/ (March 22, 2008), "Michael Provence."