Premodern manuscript production was fluid. Books and papers freely changed hands, often against their authors’ wishes. In the absence of copyright laws, certain countermeasures arose. This study considers one of them: self-commentary, meaning an author’s explanations on his own works. The article deals with two cases of medieval self-commentary across linguistic and cultural boundaries: the Arabic author and rationalist Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (d. 1057 CE), and the professional Byzantine littérateur John Tzetzes (d. 1180 CE). After an overview of their lives and works, with a focus on the key role of self-explanation, the article considers their respective manuscript cultures, which involved face-to-face educational settings that nonetheless permitted widespread copying. There follows a discussion of textual materiality, which reveals a mutual concern to avoid tampering or misinterpretation. Then, the article shows how both men tried to direct readers by exploiting language’s capacity for multiple meanings. The conclusion ponders the relevance of this study for problems posed by digital book technology.
In 1508 the legendary Sulṭān of Sindh, Niẓām al-Dīn Jām Nindō, of the Samma dynasty (1351–1522) died. The Sulṭān’s death occasioned a major political shift in Sindh at the turn of the sixteenth century, which ultimately led to the fall of the Sammas in 1522. This period is marked with repeated instances of military and civil unrests and dethroning attempts. The primary theme of this article is to demonstrate that these particular cycles of political instability defined the parameters of contemporary architectural undertakings. For this purpose, two of the most ambitious funerary constructions in the Samma royal necropolis of Maklī at Thatta (southern Sindh)—the tomb enclosure of Samma military commander Mubārak Khān and the monumental mausoleum of Sulṭān Niẓām al-Dīn—are reassessed. The article also locates political undertones in the architecture of these mausolea, and deciphers the implicit subtext interlaced into their epigraphic as well as visual motifs.
In this Philological Conversation, Carlo Ginzburg reflects on the place of philology in his work and explores the connections between philology, microhistory, and casuistry. We talk about the people who inspired his early thinking, including his father Leone Ginzburg, his mother Natalia, and his grandfather, moving on to Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer, and Sebastiano Timpanaro. We discuss the ethical and political implications of his research and reflect on the power of philology to give voice to the marginalized and suppressed. The conversation, which was edited for readability, took place during the Corona pandemic over three meetings via Zoom on July 13, September 10, and September 17, 2021.
The ethnicity concept frames discussions of regional politics in Pakistan today, as in many other parts of the world. However, this concept only became established in popular and academic discourse in Pakistan in the late 1980s. This article considers the conceptual apparatus for apprehending the region, in particular the region of Sindh, that was in place before ethnicity. It argues that Sindh was a heterogeneous idea articulated at times at the intersection, and at other times in the divergence, of concepts of religion, race, language, and nation. The article considers three historic moments in the context of broad global transformations: Sindh’s communalization and racialization in the nineteenth century; provincialization in the early twentieth century; and finally its culturalization in the early decades of Pakistan’s history. In doing so, it charts a history of the region before ethnicity and also offers a genealogy of the region as a cultural entity.
This article focuses on the lotus motif employed as an architectural decoration in the monuments of the Maklī necropolis from the late fourteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries. Through a close analysis of the form and its particular use in micro-architecture, a use connected with allusions to light and divine radiance, I explore the formation of a distinctly local aesthetic idiom in Sindh. This article demonstrates that builders and artisans at Maklī engaged in a practice of architectural citation that involved the serial replication of specific forms and their meanings. In so doing, it argues that history was and is seen as cumulative at the Maklī necropolis.
This article imagines a conception of Sindh that rejects the bounded ethnolinguistic region created through colonial-modern philology and administration. I explore affective geographies produced through singing, storytelling, and traveling in relation to the poetry of Sufi mystic Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (1689–1752) by his past and present devotees, drawing on the idea of region as a meshwork of movements created through lived lines of wayfaring, to borrow a concept from Tim Ingold. Focusing on the melodic chapters of verses (Surs) in Shah Jo Rāg, a repertoire for singing Latif’s poetry by specialist devotees (rāgī faqīrs), I reconstruct two kinds of movement. First, traces of historical movement from less-acknowledged Surs in Shah Jo Rāg and the Ganj, an early manuscript. Second, contemporary movements inspired by Surs based on two popular romances, from the narratives of Latif’s devotees. These movements reveal processes of des-making: creating entanglements to a relational and cumulative des (“land, country”).
Richard Burton, soldier, ethnographer, translator, philologist, and colonial intelligence-gatherer spent the early years of his career in Sindh and was the first and primary colonial ethnographer of Sindh. Burton was clearly attracted to the ecumenical complexity of Sindhi religious practice but was hostile in his descriptions of Sindh’s Hindus whom he viewed as a corrupt and scheming “race,” subjecting the Muslims of the province to their tyranny. The article examines how Burton’s racialised ethnographies of Sindh cast Sindh as distinct from “India” and Hindus as outsider immigrants to the province. Paradoxically, Burton’s narratives also created Sindh as the space par excellence of the negation of religious categories. However, this categorisation of Sindh also highlighted it as a space distinct from India. In conclusion, the article shows how the idea of Sindh’s separate identity maintained a strong afterlife in colonial Sindh, rearticulated in certain key contexts.