A series of local geographical texts appeared throughout Iran in the 1870s and 1880s in the context of an attempt by the Qājār dynasty to collect information on its imperial possessions. These texts combine the instrumental approach of compiling knowledge for the court with literary traditions in local historiography. This article explores these local geographical writings through theories on identity and space, arguing that these texts reflect the shifting spatial imagination of Persianate elites in the context of rapid social and economic change. These texts are an alternate entry point for viewing the politics of identity in Qājār Iran, challenging the teleological approach to the emergence of nationalism in secondary literature. Taking the close relationship between territory and community as a starting point, this article argues that expressions of regional socio-economic unities, which are a key feature of the geographical writings of Iranian elites, reflect the consolidation of regional identities.
Ḥusayn ibn Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Taḥvīldār IṣfahānīSutūdaManūchihrJughrāfīyā-yi Iṣfahān: jughrāfīyā-yi tabīʿī va insānī va amār-i aṣnāf-i shahr1963TehrānIntishārāt-i Muʿassisa-yi Muṭāliʿat va Tahqīqāt-i Ijtimāʿī
WernerChristophThe Amazon, the Sources of the Nile, and Tabriz: Nadir Mirza’s Tārīkh va Jughrāfī-yi Dār al-Salṭana-yi Tabrīz and the Local Historiography of Tabriz and AzerbaijanIranian Studies2000331-2165184
G. Gilbar“The Big Merchant-Entrepreneurs of the Middle East, 1860-1914.”Die Welt des IslamsN.S. 43/1 (2003). On merchants’ private investments in transportation and trade infrastructure in Iran see the biography of Amīn al-Żarb in S. Mahdavi For God Mammon and Country: A Nineteenth-Century Persian Merchant Haj Muhammad Hassan Amin al-Zarb 1834-1898. (Boulder: Westview Press 1999) or the investments of the Vakil al-Mulk family in Kirmān in James M. Gustafson “Household Networks and Rural Integration in Qajar Kirman.” ijmes 46/1 (2014): 51-72.
Abbas Amanat suggests that by the1870sNāṣir al-Dīn Shāh was fixated on maintaining the Qājār frontiers intact but that this “fear of territorial losses became a formidable barrier to the shah’s overall agenda to modernize.” Pivot of the Universe: Nasir al-Din Shah and the Iranian Monarchy 1831-1896 (Berkeley: University of California Press 1997): 419.
C. WernerAn Iranian Town in Transition: A Social and Economic History of the Elites of Tabriz 1747-1848 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz2000). Werner also wrote an analysis of Nādir Mīrzā’s local history of Tabrīz in “The Amazon the Sources of the Nile and Tabriz: Nadir Mirza’s Tārīkh va Jughrāfī-yi Dār al-Salṭana-yi Tabrīz and the Local Historiography of Tabriz and Azerbaijan” Iranian Studies 33/1-2: 165-84.
See for instance W. Gordon EastThe Geography Behind History (New York: Norton & Co.1967). A more radical outgrowth of this trend often pejoratively called “geographical determinism” is applied in Jared Diamond’s popular study Guns Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: Norton & Co 1998).
W.G. HoskinsThe Making of the English Landscape (London: Hodder and Stoughton1955). See also Fernand Braudel’s famous study of the relationships between history and environment in The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II Vols. 1 and 2 (Berkeley ca: University of California 1995).
S. Aube“Tabriz x. Monuments (x1) The Blue Mosque.”Encyclopaedia Iranica. Online Edition (1996-). Jahanshah’s wife is credited with establishing the vaqf endowment that supported this mosque’s construction.