How will these resources help you?

The Geography National Curriculum aims to ‘develop contextual knowledge of the location of globally significant places’ and ‘extend locational knowledge’ using maps to focus on Africa, Russia, Asia (including China and India), and the Middle East. Students must develop this knowledge of the Middle East at KS3, particularly those that go on to study GCSE Geography, where they will need this knowledge (AO1/2) for units on the Living World, Resource Management and Urban Change. The geographical concept of the Middle East is more a political and cultural concept than a physical one. Nevertheless, the landscape and physical environment of the region play an important part in many of the challenges the region faces. The media portrays the Middle East as a centre of tension, conflict and struggle. The resources in this list are from academic sources, investigative journalism and the perspective of adventure travel to develop a student’s geographical imagination and challenge misconceptions. 

How the landscape influences decision makers

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics

by Tim Marshall, published by Elliott & Thompson, (2016), 9781783962433

In this hugely popular book among teachers and students, Marshall writes, ‘Rivers, mountains, lakes, deserts, islands, and the seas, are determining factors in history.’ Chapter 6 focuses on the Middle East, where he explores the very concept of the region: ‘The Middle of What? The East of Where?’. The region has some of the most artificial borders ever known that are being ‘redrawn in blood’. This statement defines the chapter and the landscape’s role in the conflict. Marshall points out that Israel will not allow a potential enemy force on the high ground of the occupied West Bank. Meanwhile, ‘the conflict in Iraq and Syria is rooted in colonial powers ignoring the rules of geography’. The chapter is complemented with maps projected from different scales. This book is essential reading for geographers – both teachers and students. 

Deserts and climate change

The Power of Deserts: Climate Change, the Middle East, and the Promise of a Post-Oil Era

by Dan Rabinowitz, published by Stanford University Press, (2020), 9781503609983

This provocative book investigates the likely impact of climate change on the Middle East, particularly the desert environment and its likely reaction to a range of climate models. These include socio-economic disparities, mass migrations and further political instability. The first three chapters cover this depressing future, however; Chapter 4 provides balance with a positive outlook and a future of renewable energy generation in the Middle East. Few books foresee a positive future in the face of climate change or indeed portray Middle Eastern affairs positively. Yet this book provides reasons to be optimistic, with one of the hottest, driest regions on the planet hosting oil-rich gulf states transitioning to a centre of renewable energy generation.

Travelling through the Middle East

The Slow Road to Tehran: A Revelatory Bike Ride through Europe and the Middle East

by Rebecca Lowe, published by September Publishing, (2022), 9781914613029

This celebrated new book documents Lowe’s 11,000 kilometre bicycle journey through Europe to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan and Iran, providing ‘adventure and insight into the rich landscapes and history of the Middle East’. The anecdotal nature of travel writing is inspiring for students who explore physical landscapes in more personal ways than through textbooks. As one review states, ‘The book has a perfect balance of the journey itself, the landscapes, climatic conditions and challenges of cycling alone in challenging terrain’. An excellent resource for developing the geographical imaginations of students, particularly at KS3, where the Middle East is now a vital element of the National Curriculum. 

North Africa and Southwest Asia

World Regional Geography (Chapter 7: North Africa and Southwest Asia)

by Caitlin Finlayson, published by Pressbooks, (2019), 9781077115033

This accessible yet authoritative chapter gives an excellent account of the region’s physical landscape. Beginning by questioning the very meaning of the Middle East by location, it quickly moves on to its deserts and climate, supported by maps and imagery. The chapter focuses largely on GCSE AO1 while also supporting AO2 and AO3, discussing demands for water and the tensions that result. The chapter continues to link human geography to the landscape as it explains the reasons for human settlement and the innovations that came out of the fertile area of Mesopotamia, and concludes with conflict and shifting borders. This resource supports students at all levels by providing a concise account of the physical landscape of the region and by addressing misconceptions, such as highlighting the fertile areas among vast deserts.  

Further materials

8.1: Middle East, (Guest Hollow's High School Geography and Cultures Curriculum Online Textbook, Guest Hollow, LLC) Access this resource
How Saudi Arabia is Turning Desert into Huge Farmlands by CuriousReason, published by YouTube, (2021) Watch this video
Wild Arabia - Hidden Deep in the Desert | Rains by WD Wildlife Documentary, published by YouTube, (2018) Watch this video
David Newell is Head of Geography at Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex. He has held the GA’s Secondary Geography Quality Mark since 2015, and has worked as a Specialist Leader in Education, advising schools on improving their Geography provision.

Text © David Newell, 2022.