The history of the ancient Near East features many firsts of civilization, some of which include the Neolithic Revolution, metallurgy, writing, literature, empire, urban life, public monuments, legal codes, monotheism, and international trade networks. This course will focus on the core of the ancient Near Eastern territory, Mesopotamia and West Asia (what is today Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Turkey). In addition to an examination of the historical, political, and cultural developments of the region, this course will confront the difficulty inherent in studying the ancient Near East. While important first-hand records are extant, historians must also consult sources written hundreds of years after the events they record or must interpret mythic texts or no texts at all, but iconographic or archaeological materials. Researching the ancient Near East is further complicated by military conflict and cultural destruction that have accompanied this region, from the advent of civilization through to today. Thus this course also examines fundamental issues of epistemology and methodology in the process of studying this influential past.