An historian from Edge Hill University has been awarded a highly sought after grant to research the origins of the politics and conflicts of the Middle East.

Senior Lecturer Dr James Renton has been granted an Early Career Research Fellowship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which supports world-class studies that furthers our understanding of human culture and creativity.

The £37,000 grant will allow Dr Renton to focus on his book, The Middle East: The Rise and Fall of an Idea. It will explore the politics and conflicts of the Middle East, with a focus on the ideas promoted by the British Empire during the critical moment of the First World War.

In this interview, Dr Renton explains more about his research.

He said: “I’m honoured to be awarded this fellowship, which will allow me to complete the book. My research suggests that the actions of the British Government had a profound effect on the politics and conflicts of the Middle East. The story of Britain’s political influence on the region has a lot to tell us about the nature of the challenges that currently face the Middle East; it offers new insights into the prospects for democracy and stability there, and the nature of relations between the region and the rest of the world.”

He explains: “The Ottoman Empire governed the Middle East for four centuries. Following the defeat of the Ottomans by the Allies during the First World War, that political system was swept away. In its place came a system of new states in Iraq, Palestine, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia; a raft of violent ethnic, religious and nationalist conflicts, and the establishment of autocratic elites and Zionist colonialists propped up by Western Empires and the international community. The actions of the British Government played a crucial role in the establishment of this post-Ottoman Middle East.”

Dr Renton’s research project is the first study of the idea of the Middle East that was conceived and promoted around the world by the British Government during the First World War: its origins, evolution and effects. It comes at an important time of public and Government interest in the political character of the Middle East and its future, and debate over the role of the West, democracy, and the prospects for stability in the region.

He aims to bring the findings of his research to the widest possible audience at this crucial juncture for the region, including the media, policy-makers and the wider public.

A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Dr Renton already has a strong international profile, based on a range of publications, including his acclaimed book The Zionist Masquerade: the Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914-1918, which re-examined a critical chapter in the history of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, and the British Empire in the Middle East.

He has held post-doctoral fellowships from the Cecil and Irene Roth Memorial Trust and the Hanadiv Charitable Foundation. He is also an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London.