Thomas A. Carlson is an assistant professor of Middle Eastern history at Oklahoma State University. His research explores the religious and ethnic diversity of medieval society from Cairo to Samarqand to Constantinople. This work challenges the confessionalization and linguistic balkanization of historical study of this region by revealing a more multi-faceted, interconnected, and dynamic past than has hitherto been suspected. He teaches Middle Eastern history from Muhammad to the present, with a particular emphasis on contingency and strategies for managing difference. In all his work, he seeks to help colleagues, students, and the broader public to understand the stakes and to access the resources of the powerful nexus of human experience in the medieval Middle East.
About the coin: The header images are the obverse and reverse of a coin (ID 6713) in the Princeton University Numismatic Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library. One side depicts the king of Cilician Armenia, Het’um I (r. 1226-1270), while the other names the Seljuk sultan Kayqubad II (r. 1249-1256). Striking coins in the name of a sovereign was a typical medieval Middle Eastern mode of indicating vassalage, although at the time both Het’um and Kayqubad were vassals of the Mongol Empire. The medieval Middle East is often studied as Islamic history, including Seljuk sultans but not Armenian kings, yet coins like these reveal the difficulty in defining precisely the boundaries of “the Islamic world.” Indeed, large non-Muslim populations (including rulers such as Het’um) continued in the Middle East into the late medieval period. Within the medieval Middle East, Islamic history and Eastern Christian history may profitably be studied as two sides of the same coin.