Workshops: The First World War and the Middle East

2016 sees the centenary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret agreement by which the Entente powers, chiefly Britain and France, organised their intentions for the Middle East once the Ottoman Empire fell.

It was a significant moment in international relations and the development of the postwar system and is of particular interest at the moment, not just because of the centenary, but also the huge ramifications that it has had on the present day, in the Middle East and beyond.

The Centre intends to use the moment of the centenary to explore and discuss Sykes-Picot, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the long term impact of the First World War on a region that isn’t always associated with that conflict in the wider public imagination.

Persian man posing for a photograph. Note a truck with British troops in the background. The Service of the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the Persian Campaign, 1918. IWM Q 73032
Persian man posing for a photograph. Note a truck with British troops in the background. The Service of the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the Persian Campaign, 1918. IWM Q 73032

The Centre’s first public activities will take place in York on the 26th April. There are three linked events taking place, you can book for all three, or for each one individually.

The morning workshop will draw on the King’s Book of York Heroes and local research current, recent and future, focusing on the Middle East. The afternoon will lead on from this to more general discussions of World War One and the Middle East, including Yorkshire’s involvement and implications for today. Famous Yorkies such as Sir Mark Sykes, Gertrude Bell, and even Lawrence of Arabia and Bridlington will attend. ISIS will no doubt be mentioned!

There will be exhibitions throughout the day, along with lots of sources familiar and unfamiliar. We hope the day will generate enthusiasm and interest to follow up these ideas so it has a lasting legacy.

Details are still being confirmed, and may well be changed. Draft programmes are below.


9am: set up exhibits

9.30-10.30:  Coffee & Registration: Network and view exhibits

10.30-12.30 (with break):  Introduction: Themes of today and of the BABITME conference

  • The King’s Book of York Heroes.
    • What is it?
    • What has been done with it so far? Research from Fulford, Bishopthorpe, Copmanthorpe
    • What remains to be done? Digitisaton? A digital database? Linking with other data sources?

12.30: Lunch (free if booked). Network and view exhibits


1.30-5.30 (with breaks): Several themes such as the following

  • Middle East and the decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1900-1920
  • What happened? Different perspectives (Ottoman, German, Russian, French)
  • Sykes-Picot (16 May 1916)
  • Yorkshire links with the Middle East
  • The East Riding Yeomanry in Egypt and Palestine
  • Gertrude Bell, Mark Sykes, Wass Reader (a Hull soldier writes home)
  • Possible future research.
  • Yorkshire Quakers, pacifism, and the Middle East
  • Presentations from the Rowntree Society (York)
  • Contribution from Cyril Pearce (world-renowned expert on the history of pacifism – see below)
  • Prospects and sources for future research
Sykes Picot Agreement Map
Sykes Picot Agreement Map

The evening lecture (7.30) relates to pacifism in World War One and is hosted by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society (details here). The speaker, Cyril Pearce, is world-renowned. Workshop attendees will be entitled to attend this lecture without charge.

All events are in central York. Morning and afternoon workshops are at Clements Hall, just 800 yards from York Railway station – turn right as you come out of the station, curve left and go over the bridge, cross in front of Micklegate Bar, then walk 200 yards along Nunnery Lane, turn right along Dale Street, and Clements Hall is at the end on your left. If you are parking, park in Nunnery Lane car park (fees apply).The evening event is in the Yorkshire Museum (see details below).

The entire day links with the themes of the “Borders and Beyond in the Middle East” (BABITME) conference in York in mid-June (details here). Those attending on 26 April will be entitled to free and reduced-fee tickets to BABITME (normal price £100).

We hope that you will decide to stay for the entire day on April 26th, but booking will be possible for each session separately.