Few works of history make as well-structured a case for the importance of studying continuity, rather than change, than Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples.
Hourani’s work had three major aims: to refute the idea that Arab society stagnated between 1000 and 1800; to study the period through the lens of diverse Arab, rather than Muslim, history; and to stress intellectual and cultural continuity. All of these intentions were the product of the author’s evaluation of a great mass of secondary sources, many of them devoted to arguing for ideas that contradicted his, and it demanded considerable skill to synthesize from them a coherent and well-evidenced counter-argument.
Hourani was able to do this largely because his grasp of the relevance and adequacy of his predecessors’ arguments was second to none; his achievement lies in his ability to reject the reasoning of other historians while still making good use of their evidence. In this task, he was aided by an interpretative skill almost equal to his powers of evaluation; A History of the Arab Peoples is also a monument to the importance of properly understanding the meaning of available evidence.