Johan Franzen

Johan Franzen


  • 3.01 Arts and Humanities Building

Accepting PhD Students

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Personal profile


Dr Johan Franzén is a historian of the modern Middle East. His research focuses on how the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire navigated processes of nation-building and disruptions from their Islamic past. He is especially interested in histories of resistance, and the ways in which the Arab peoples entered "modernity" in states that were set up to fit in with an emerging international order after the first World War. 

Dr Franzén is the author of Red Star Over Iraq: Iraqi Communism Before Saddam (Hurst/Oxford University Press, 2011), which provides a history of ideas approach to Iraqi communism. The book explores how the Iraqi Communist Party was established as a pro-Soviet organisation, but gradually developed into a fusion of nationalist, socialist, and Third World ideology.

In 2020, Dr Franzén published Pride and Power: A Modern History of Iraq, which argues that Iraq's modern history needs to be seen through the prism of resistance and struggle for a national identity. It shows how Iraq was set up to suit Western imperial interests, but how the Iraqi people over decades fought to take control of the state and turn into something different. 


Dr Franzén specialises in the political history of the Arab East (al-Mashreq) – i.e. Egypt, the Levant (Bilād al-Shām), Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.  He has particular expertise in the modern history of Iraq, but also political movements such as Arab Communism and Arab Socialism (e.g. Baᶜthism, Nasserism). In addition, Dr Franzén is an expert on British imperial history in the Middle East and the International Relations of the region more generally.

Key Research Interests

Dr Franzén's main research interest is the political history of the modern Middle East, with a special emphasis on the Arab East (the Mashreq). His research focuses on how Britain and other Western powers exercised power in the region and the local responses this outside interference gave rise to. As such, his research is eclectic and multifarious. It looks at very different topics, ranging from Ottoman statecraft in the 19th century, through the British imperial project in the first half of the 20th century and American influence and policy thereafter, to local Arab resistance, revolutions and coups, and corresponding political ideologies from the mid-20th century onwards. Key themes in this broad approach to the history of the region are: national and political identities and ideologies, patterns of domination and resistance, and intellectual history.       

Areas of Expertise

Middle East politics; Middle East history; Iraq; Syria; Egypt; Lebanon; Israel/Palestine; protest and revolutions in the Middle East; nationalism (Arab, Kurdish, Turkish); identity politics in the Middle East; history of ideas; intellectual history.

Teaching Interests

Dr Franzén’s teaching interests spans the whole Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab East (the Mashreq). The main focus of his teaching is on the political history of the region, nation-building, national identity, political ideology, Islamism, etc. from the late Ottoman Empire (roughly from the mid-nineteenth century) until the present time.


  • Global & Transnational History
  • Middle Eastern History
  • Modern History

Media Expertise

  • History
  • Foreign Policy
  • International relations