Geographical Literature in Nineteenth-Century Iran: Regional Identities and the Construction of Space

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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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.

Geographical Literature in Nineteenth-Century Iran: Regional Identities and the Construction of Space

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

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References

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1

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.

2

D. HarveyThe Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Causes of Cultural Change (Cambridge: Blackwell1990): 240 260-83.

3

M. FeatherstoneUndoing Culture: Globalization Postmodernism and Identity (London: Sage1995): 89.

6

V. MartinThe Qajar Pact: Bargaining Protest and the State in Nineteenth-Century Persia. (London: I.B. Tauris2005).

7

Abbas Amanat suggests that by the 1870sNāṣir 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.

14

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.

18

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).

19

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).

22

F. Kashani-SabetFrontier Fictions: Shaping the Iranian Nation 1804-1946 (Princeton: Princeton University Press1999).

25

Z. AntrimRoutes and Realms: The Power of Place in the Early Islamic World (New York: Oxford University Press2012): 1.

29

T. ZadehMapping Frontiers across Medieval Islam: Geography Translation and the ʿAbbāsid Empire (New York: I.B. Tauris2011): 2.

35

Z. Antrim“Watan Before Wataniyya: Loyalty to Land in Ayyubid and Mamluk Syria.” al-Masaq 22/2 179-80.

39

M. Tavakoli-TarghiRefashioning Iran: Orientalism Occidentalism and Historiography (Houndmills: Palgrave2001).

40

A. MarashiNationalizing Iran: Culture Power and the State 1870-1940 (Seattle: University of Washington Press2008).

56

F. Gaffari“Amin-al-Dawla, Farrok Khan Gaffari.” Encyclopaedia IranicaOnline Edition (1996-).

90

H. Busse“Fars-nama-ye Naseri.” Encyclopaedia IranicaOnline Edition (1996-).

102

J. PerryKarim Khan Zand: A History of Iran 1747-1779 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1979).

117

F. Zarinebaf“From Istanbul to Tabriz: Modernity and Constitutionalism in the Ottoman Empire and Iran.” Comparative Studies of South Asia Africa and the Middle East. 28/1 (2008): 154-55.

120

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.

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