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Defining the Persianate

The Comparative Persianate Aesthetics Symposium (Boston University, September 28-29, 2017)

This dish reflects the combination of visual and decorative elements deriving from several different sources. It imitates Chinese blue-and-white porcelain, popular in Europe and the Middle East at this time, while incorporating both faux Chinese symbols and Iranian vegetal elements in the circular bands surrounding the central image, which depicts a dandy figure of the type associated with the courtly culture established by the Safavid Shāh ʿAbbās (r. 1588-1629) at Isfahan. Ceramic, northwest Iran, early 17th c. (1896,0626.6; courtesy The British Museum).

Alison Terndrup and Hyunjin Cho


How do we characterize the “fuzzy, but generally definable” cultural realm of the “Persianate”?

In 1974, Marshall Hodgson coined the term “Persianate” in volume 2 of his The Venture of Islam. He defined the term with the following:

“The rise of Persian had more than purely literary consequences: it served to carry a new overall cultural orientation within Islamdom… Most of the more local languages of high culture that later emerged among Muslims… depended upon Persian wholly or in part for their prime literary inspiration. We may call all these cultural traditions, carried in Persian or reflecting Persian inspiration, ‘Persianate’ by extension.”1

Has it now become time to reevaluate this definition? On September 28-29, 2017, the “Comparative Persianate Aesthetics Symposium,” organized by Sunil Sharma, Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature and Convener of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages, and Emine Fetvacı, Associate Chair of the History of Art and Architecture Department and Associate Professor of Islamic Art, brought together a diverse group of scholars to explore this term in an interdisciplinary manner. The symposium was sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Literatures, the Department of History of Art and Architecture, the Boston University Center for the Humanities, the Center for the Study of Asia, and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations.

Over the course of two days, scholars gathered together for the symposium to think about how current scholarship uses the “fuzzy, but generally definable” term “Persianate.” The discussions centered on the language and aesthetics of poetry and visual works. Speakers treated topics that allowed for detailed examination of modes of cultural exchange, movement of objects, and early modern itineraries within the conceptual frameworks of translation, imitation, hybridity, and innovation.

Selim Kuru delivering his keynote lecture, “Poetics of Influence: Diverse Origins and Diverging Paths of Persianate Cosmopolises” (photo credit: Hyunjin Cho).

Selim Kuru (University of Washington) delivered the keynote paper, “Poetics of Influence: Diverse Origins and Diverging Paths of Persianate Cosmopolises,” in which he outlined the problematic use of the adjective “Persianate” as a type of shorthand for a range of complex, heterogeneous aesthetic and cultural phenomena. Acknowledging that differing “Persianates” exist and that overlapping and converging forces are in play, how then can scholars use this term responsibly? This acknowledgment of multiple, diverse “Persianates” is the very beginning of the process of answering this question through concrete changes in methodologies and frameworks.2

Continuing to ponder the questions that Kuru raised in his keynote, Friday’s first panel took as its focus the adoption and adaptation of Firdowsī’s eleventh-century epic poem Shāhnāmeh, examining the ways in which it was used as a model for verse in various contexts. Sunil Sharma (Boston University) began the panel with his presentation entitled “Persianate Royal Biographies in Verse,” in which, through the lens of genre, he examined the use of the Shāhnāmeh as a literary model for official royal biographies—Hātifī’s Tīmūrnāmeh (1498), Adāʾī’s Shāhnāmeh-i Sulṭān Salīm (1520), Qāsimī’s Shāhnāmeh-yi Ismāʿīl (1533-34), Qudsī’s Shāhjahānāmeh (1640)—within the contexts of various “Persianate” cosmopolises—Timurid Herat, Ottoman Istanbul, Safavid Tabriz, and Mughal Delhi, respectively. In exploring these diverse materials, Sharma mainly questioned whether or not, or to what degree, there existed a conscious shift from “Persian” to “Persianate” in regards to imperial and dynastic identities. What role, he asked, does the transfer and circulation of textual models have in this shift?

A folio from the qasīdah of Nuṣratī in Deccani in naskh script, ink, watercolor, and gold on paper, Bijapur, Deccan, mid-17th c. (BL Or 13533, f. 18b; courtesy of the British Library, London, UK).

In this panel’s second paper, Subah Dayal (Tulane University) expanded the context by focusing in on the work of Nuṣratī of Bijapur, court poet to ʿAlī ʿĀdil Shāh II, Sultan of the Deccan (Mughal-controlled south-central India) c. 1650. In her paper, “Heroic Verse and History-Writing in the Deccan: Nuṣratī’s Responses to the Shāhnāmeh,” her goal was to complicate the relationship between Deccani and Persian poetic structures and narratives. Rather than considering it as a view from high to low, she considered it a more complicated exchange according to Nuṣratī’s own understanding. Here, we come back to the larger question of “Persianate” literary forms as an internally disputed and fraught category with variable sets of users whose experiences and products can be shaped by their locality.

The second panel explored the theme of the “Persianate” on a global scale, encompassing the circulation of people and objects. Farshid Emami (Oberlin College) presented his paper, “Safavid Shahrāshūb: Literary Form and Experience in Seventeenth-Century Isfahan.” He explained how the shahrāshūb, a literary genre describing an urban landscape and its inhabitants, in either prose or mesnevī verse forms could help us to understand the new ways of interacting with the distinct urban character of Isfahan in the early modern period. By examining descriptions of urban spaces as self-conscious products, Emami presents the form of the shahrāshūb as a literary response related to the network of subjective interpretations of the cosmopolis.

The second paper of panel two, presented by Chanchal Dadlani (Wake Forest University), was entitled, “The Persianate in Paris: Mughal Manuscript Culture and French Knowledge Production in the Eighteenth Century.” Dadlani tackled the topic of the “Persianate” on a global scale through a study of the Gentil Album (Faizabad, India, 1774), a product of French and Mughal collaboration. Often billed as a “customs and manners” album, Dadlani argued that such a reading obscures the vital role of cross-cultural connections in manuscript production. She stressed the need for consideration of the “Persianate” aesthetic by bringing up a useful concept, the “muraqqah mentality.” With this, she correlated the visual format of the Gentil Album with the encyclopedic logic of local album productions in the Islamicate world as the determining cultural force here, rather than with European hegemony, expressed in the format of Orientalist encyclopedism. Dadlani argues that the Gentil Album is not just an “eyewitness” account, but that it was influenced by a Mughal source, Abū’l-Fażl’s ʿAyn-i Akbarī (1590s). This pushes back against the idea that the encyclopedic text must only be informed by the European post-Enlightenment urge to collect, describe, and sort the world. In the case of the Gentil Album, its afterlife in a European collection masked its “Persianate” idiom, but as Dadlani pointed out, the logic of the album points to its multinodal origins.

Chanchal Dadlani delivering her paper on “The Persianate in Paris: Mughal Manuscript Culture and French Knowledge Production in the Eighteenth Century” (photo credit: Michael Pregill).

Kishwar Rizvi (Yale University) continued the task of complicating and opening up the Persianate through the lens of Shāh ʿAbbās’s patronage and the connected histories of global early modernity in her paper, “Branding Iran: Persian Art and Culture in the Age of Global Early Modernity.” She asked how our points of view affect the ways in which we accept or define the “Persianate.” Pointing out that the convenient shorthand of “Persianate” often suppresses elements of linguistic and aesthetic diversity, Rizvi proposed that scholars examine more critically the shared language and cultural “competitive discourse” between leaders across the early modern world. In addition, scholars should look microscopically at agents, actors, and objects that augment the east-west trade and tell us what it may have been like to experience Safavid Iran. Touching on the issue of canonization and the anxiety over the “Persianate” in Iranian history, Rizvi noted the renewed interest in Timurid arts of the book and architecture under Shāh ʿAbbās I. This interest in Timurid rhetoric had previously shaped the political imaginary of Shāh Tahmāsp’s Iran. Perhaps that imaginary was also informed by Iran’s topographical presence and the Safavid imperium’s idea that they were the center of the world in their “branding.”

Panel three focused on seventeenth-century Ottoman cultural products that give us insight into the self-conscious creation of an Ottoman Persianate aesthetic. Emine Fetvacı (Boston University) presented “‘Calligraphers Renowned in the Lands of Rūm and ʿAjam’: Ottoman nastaʿlīq in the Seventeenth Century.” Interested in what the “Persianate” means in different geographical areas and at various chronological points, Fetvacı argued that the Ottoman usage of nastaʿlīq suggests shared histories and a connected idiom between the Ottoman and Safavid realms. In The Album of the World Emperor, she points out that nastaʿlīq is not a fresh idiom or strictly Ottoman aesthetic, but that the calligrapher (Shaykh Ḥamdallāh) and album maker (Kalender) were working within two geographies: the Ottoman lands and the Persianate world (Iran and beyond), making their product a cultural hybrid. Fetvacı problematized the grouping of calligraphers into distinctive rūmī (Turkish/Turkic/Ottoman) or ʿajam (Persian/Persianate) categories since many calligraphers were related through pedagogical networks that crossed over dynastic boundaries. Because of Kalender’s role as a compiler, the album is therefore self-consciously Ottoman, but its margins are the product of a bi-national network, just as the calligraphers themselves were producers of a mixture of pedagogic and dynastic identities.

Evidence for the connected histories and cross-cultural exchanges of the early modern period is preserved in such objects as this embroidered satin panel of the Last Supper, produced during the Safavid period, probably in the 17th century (1937.5208; courtesy Yale University Art Gallery).

Sooyong Kim (Koç University) discussed “Two Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Sāqināmehs in Persian.” He pointed out that there must have remained an anxiety about continuing the production of this classical Persian poetic genre in its original language, even when most other production at the court was in Turkish. The earlier of the two, written by Abū Turāb, was taken as a model for the more experimental Sāqināmeh of Ṭıybī (1687), which was written in both Persian and Turkish. In fact, it would seem that the flexible nature of the Sāqināmeh genre in content and form was the very thing that made it attractive to Ottoman poets. In exploring this flexible literary format, Kim argues that it is crucial that we look at how the Ottomans embraced a Persian literary tradition and their subsequent contribution to the genre. This adaptation of a Persian-derived genre in the Ottoman Empire again brought us back to the previous question of how the Ottomans perceived and characterized “Persians.”

Two pages from the Gentil Album: top, “The Mughal Emperor and his Court”; bottom, “Rites and Beliefs of the Hindus,” depicting Brahma’s creation of the four castes. Ink and watercolor on paper, Faizabad, India, 1774 (IS.25:1-1980 and IS.25:37-1980; courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK).

The concluding session moved us forward in a different manner, focusing on marginalized cultural groups and the vernacularization of literature. Amr Ahmed (Harvard University), who presented “The Persian Sources of Mem ū Zīn, the First Kurdish Love masnavī,” discussed the romance masnavī by a Kurdish writer, Aḥmad Khānī (1650 – 1707). Ahmed focused on the “double borrowing” process of Khānī by arguing that Mem ū Zīn is a hybrid reworking of a Kurdish story that employs the style of a Persian romance. The multiple layers of borrowing include Khani’s incorporation of Persian loan words, his use of elements of Persian stories such as Laylah and Majnūn, and even his gaining inspiration from the works of Niẓāmī and Jāmīʿ. The “doubling” occurs when these layers are incorporated into the Kurdish tale, the retelling of which facilitates the author’s borrowing from named Kurdish predecessors. Nonetheless, Khānī retains his agency and authorship by coming up with a novel way in which “Persianate etiquette” could be employed to elevate the content, a task he carries out through original rhyme pairs and a lexicon that exceeded that of his Persian and Kurdish predecessors.

The final paper was delivered by Thibaut d’Hubert (University of Chicago). In “Dāstān Literature in Late Mughal Bengal: Shāh Gharīballāh’s Dobhāshī Āmīr Hāmjār puthi,” d’Hubert discussed the self-awareness and self-consciousness of Bengali writers like Shāh Gharīballāh in producing Dobhāshī literature and challenges previous understandings that define the hybridity of Dobhāshī within the framework of decline and submission. Literally translated as “(made) of two languages” and considered as an “interpreter’s language,” Dobhāshī was a result of natural blending as Persian and other languages spread in Mughal India. By considering the state of Persian education in Bengal in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Persian as the source of vernacular education, and transmission of Āmīr Hāmjā as a performed text, d’Hubert shows how Persian was adopted to assist in the vernacularization of literature. In doing so, he demonstrates one way in which Bengalis took inspiration from Persian literature to create and refashion indigenous didactic and moral texts.

Through these interdisciplinary panels, scholars held lively and provocative discussions on the problematic yet useful framework of the “Persianate.” It became clear by the end of the symposium that these interdisciplinary platforms can help scholars expand the methodological possibilities when conducting research on Persianate cultures. Collectively, each presentation revisited the main methodological complexities and cautions highlighted by Kuru’s excellent keynote, including scholarly responsibility and collaborative work.

 

ALISON TERNDRUP is a Ph.D. student in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Boston University. Her research focuses on the role of art in cross-cultural exchanges, with a particular interest in the diplomatic and propagandistic functions of public-facing imperial portraiture produced under the auspices of Ottoman Sultan Maḥmūd II (r. 1808-1839).

HYUNJIN CHO is a Ph.D. student in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Boston University. She is interested in visual modernity and traditionalism in paintings and prints from early Qajar Iran. Her M.A. paper was on Iranian postage stamps issued during the reign of Naṣīr al-Dīn Shāh (r. 1848-1896).

 

  1. Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Volume 2: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 293.
  2. Kuru mentioned in his keynote that there has previously been efforts to reassess the term “Persianate.” For example, he cited the conference “Persianate World: A Conceptual Inquiry” at Yale University in 2014 and the 2016 issue of Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East edited by Mana Kia and Afshin Marashi entitled “After the Persianate” (vol. 36, no. 3, 2016).

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Defining the Persianate

The Comparative Persianate Aesthetics Symposium (Boston University, September 28-29, 2017)


Alison Terndrup and Hyunjin Cho


How do we characterize the “fuzzy, but generally definable” cultural realm of the “Persianate”?

In 1974, Marshall Hodgson coined the term “Persianate” in volume 2 of his The Venture of Islam. He defined the term with the following:

“The rise of Persian had more than purely literary consequences: it served to carry a new overall cultural orientation within Islamdom… Most of the more local languages of high culture that later emerged among Muslims… depended upon Persian wholly or in part for their prime literary inspiration. We may call all these cultural traditions, carried in Persian or reflecting Persian inspiration, ‘Persianate’ by extension.”1

Has it now become time to reevaluate this definition? On September 28-29, 2017, the “Comparative Persianate Aesthetics Symposium,” organized by Sunil Sharma, Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature and Convener of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages, and Emine Fetvacı, Associate Chair of the History of Art and Architecture Department and Associate Professor of Islamic Art, brought together a diverse group of scholars to explore this term in an interdisciplinary manner. The symposium was sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Literatures, the Department of History of Art and Architecture, the Boston University Center for the Humanities, the Center for the Study of Asia, and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations.

Over the course of two days, scholars gathered together for the symposium to think about how current scholarship uses the “fuzzy, but generally definable” term “Persianate.” The discussions centered on the language and aesthetics of poetry and visual works. Speakers treated topics that allowed for detailed examination of modes of cultural exchange, movement of objects, and early modern itineraries within the conceptual frameworks of translation, imitation, hybridity, and innovation.

Selim Kuru delivering his keynote lecture, “Poetics of Influence: Diverse Origins and Diverging Paths of Persianate Cosmopolises” (photo credit: Hyunjin Cho).

Selim Kuru (University of Washington) delivered the keynote paper, “Poetics of Influence: Diverse Origins and Diverging Paths of Persianate Cosmopolises,” in which he outlined the problematic use of the adjective “Persianate” as a type of shorthand for a range of complex, heterogeneous aesthetic and cultural phenomena. Acknowledging that differing “Persianates” exist and that overlapping and converging forces are in play, how then can scholars use this term responsibly? This acknowledgment of multiple, diverse “Persianates” is the very beginning of the process of answering this question through concrete changes in methodologies and frameworks.2

Continuing to ponder the questions that Kuru raised in his keynote, Friday’s first panel took as its focus the adoption and adaptation of Firdowsī’s eleventh-century epic poem Shāhnāmeh, examining the ways in which it was used as a model for verse in various contexts. Sunil Sharma (Boston University) began the panel with his presentation entitled “Persianate Royal Biographies in Verse,” in which, through the lens of genre, he examined the use of the Shāhnāmeh as a literary model for official royal biographies—Hātifī’s Tīmūrnāmeh (1498), Adāʾī’s Shāhnāmeh-i Sulṭān Salīm (1520), Qāsimī’s Shāhnāmeh-yi Ismāʿīl (1533-34), Qudsī’s Shāhjahānāmeh (1640)—within the contexts of various “Persianate” cosmopolises—Timurid Herat, Ottoman Istanbul, Safavid Tabriz, and Mughal Delhi, respectively. In exploring these diverse materials, Sharma mainly questioned whether or not, or to what degree, there existed a conscious shift from “Persian” to “Persianate” in regards to imperial and dynastic identities. What role, he asked, does the transfer and circulation of textual models have in this shift?

A folio from the qasīdah of Nuṣratī in Deccani in naskh script, ink, watercolor, and gold on paper, Bijapur, Deccan, mid-17th c. (BL Or 13533, f. 18b; courtesy of the British Library, London, UK).

In this panel’s second paper, Subah Dayal (Tulane University) expanded the context by focusing in on the work of Nuṣratī of Bijapur, court poet to ʿAlī ʿĀdil Shāh II, Sultan of the Deccan (Mughal-controlled south-central India) c. 1650. In her paper, “Heroic Verse and History-Writing in the Deccan: Nuṣratī’s Responses to the Shāhnāmeh,” her goal was to complicate the relationship between Deccani and Persian poetic structures and narratives. Rather than considering it as a view from high to low, she considered it a more complicated exchange according to Nuṣratī’s own understanding. Here, we come back to the larger question of “Persianate” literary forms as an internally disputed and fraught category with variable sets of users whose experiences and products can be shaped by their locality.

The second panel explored the theme of the “Persianate” on a global scale, encompassing the circulation of people and objects. Farshid Emami (Oberlin College) presented his paper, “Safavid Shahrāshūb: Literary Form and Experience in Seventeenth-Century Isfahan.” He explained how the shahrāshūb, a literary genre describing an urban landscape and its inhabitants, in either prose or mesnevī verse forms could help us to understand the new ways of interacting with the distinct urban character of Isfahan in the early modern period. By examining descriptions of urban spaces as self-conscious products, Emami presents the form of the shahrāshūb as a literary response related to the network of subjective interpretations of the cosmopolis.

The second paper of panel two, presented by Chanchal Dadlani (Wake Forest University), was entitled, “The Persianate in Paris: Mughal Manuscript Culture and French Knowledge Production in the Eighteenth Century.” Dadlani tackled the topic of the “Persianate” on a global scale through a study of the Gentil Album (Faizabad, India, 1774), a product of French and Mughal collaboration. Often billed as a “customs and manners” album, Dadlani argued that such a reading obscures the vital role of cross-cultural connections in manuscript production. She stressed the need for consideration of the “Persianate” aesthetic by bringing up a useful concept, the “muraqqah mentality.” With this, she correlated the visual format of the Gentil Album with the encyclopedic logic of local album productions in the Islamicate world as the determining cultural force here, rather than with European hegemony, expressed in the format of Orientalist encyclopedism. Dadlani argues that the Gentil Album is not just an “eyewitness” account, but that it was influenced by a Mughal source, Abū’l-Fażl’s ʿAyn-i Akbarī (1590s). This pushes back against the idea that the encyclopedic text must only be informed by the European post-Enlightenment urge to collect, describe, and sort the world. In the case of the Gentil Album, its afterlife in a European collection masked its “Persianate” idiom, but as Dadlani pointed out, the logic of the album points to its multinodal origins.

Chanchal Dadlani delivering her paper on “The Persianate in Paris: Mughal Manuscript Culture and French Knowledge Production in the Eighteenth Century” (photo credit: Michael Pregill).

Kishwar Rizvi (Yale University) continued the task of complicating and opening up the Persianate through the lens of Shāh ʿAbbās’s patronage and the connected histories of global early modernity in her paper, “Branding Iran: Persian Art and Culture in the Age of Global Early Modernity.” She asked how our points of view affect the ways in which we accept or define the “Persianate.” Pointing out that the convenient shorthand of “Persianate” often suppresses elements of linguistic and aesthetic diversity, Rizvi proposed that scholars examine more critically the shared language and cultural “competitive discourse” between leaders across the early modern world. In addition, scholars should look microscopically at agents, actors, and objects that augment the east-west trade and tell us what it may have been like to experience Safavid Iran. Touching on the issue of canonization and the anxiety over the “Persianate” in Iranian history, Rizvi noted the renewed interest in Timurid arts of the book and architecture under Shāh ʿAbbās I. This interest in Timurid rhetoric had previously shaped the political imaginary of Shāh Tahmāsp’s Iran. Perhaps that imaginary was also informed by Iran’s topographical presence and the Safavid imperium’s idea that they were the center of the world in their “branding.”

Panel three focused on seventeenth-century Ottoman cultural products that give us insight into the self-conscious creation of an Ottoman Persianate aesthetic. Emine Fetvacı (Boston University) presented “‘Calligraphers Renowned in the Lands of Rūm and ʿAjam’: Ottoman nastaʿlīq in the Seventeenth Century.” Interested in what the “Persianate” means in different geographical areas and at various chronological points, Fetvacı argued that the Ottoman usage of nastaʿlīq suggests shared histories and a connected idiom between the Ottoman and Safavid realms. In The Album of the World Emperor, she points out that nastaʿlīq is not a fresh idiom or strictly Ottoman aesthetic, but that the calligrapher (Shaykh Ḥamdallāh) and album maker (Kalender) were working within two geographies: the Ottoman lands and the Persianate world (Iran and beyond), making their product a cultural hybrid. Fetvacı problematized the grouping of calligraphers into distinctive rūmī (Turkish/Turkic/Ottoman) or ʿajam (Persian/Persianate) categories since many calligraphers were related through pedagogical networks that crossed over dynastic boundaries. Because of Kalender’s role as a compiler, the album is therefore self-consciously Ottoman, but its margins are the product of a bi-national network, just as the calligraphers themselves were producers of a mixture of pedagogic and dynastic identities.

Evidence for the connected histories and cross-cultural exchanges of the early modern period is preserved in such objects as this embroidered satin panel of the Last Supper, produced during the Safavid period, probably in the 17th century (1937.5208; courtesy Yale University Art Gallery).

Sooyong Kim (Koç University) discussed “Two Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Sāqināmehs in Persian.” He pointed out that there must have remained an anxiety about continuing the production of this classical Persian poetic genre in its original language, even when most other production at the court was in Turkish. The earlier of the two, written by Abū Turāb, was taken as a model for the more experimental Sāqināmeh of Ṭıybī (1687), which was written in both Persian and Turkish. In fact, it would seem that the flexible nature of the Sāqināmeh genre in content and form was the very thing that made it attractive to Ottoman poets. In exploring this flexible literary format, Kim argues that it is crucial that we look at how the Ottomans embraced a Persian literary tradition and their subsequent contribution to the genre. This adaptation of a Persian-derived genre in the Ottoman Empire again brought us back to the previous question of how the Ottomans perceived and characterized “Persians.”

Two pages from the Gentil Album: top, “The Mughal Emperor and his Court”; bottom, “Rites and Beliefs of the Hindus,” depicting Brahma’s creation of the four castes. Ink and watercolor on paper, Faizabad, India, 1774 (IS.25:1-1980 and IS.25:37-1980; courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK).

The concluding session moved us forward in a different manner, focusing on marginalized cultural groups and the vernacularization of literature. Amr Ahmed (Harvard University), who presented “The Persian Sources of Mem ū Zīn, the First Kurdish Love masnavī,” discussed the romance masnavī by a Kurdish writer, Aḥmad Khānī (1650 – 1707). Ahmed focused on the “double borrowing” process of Khānī by arguing that Mem ū Zīn is a hybrid reworking of a Kurdish story that employs the style of a Persian romance. The multiple layers of borrowing include Khani’s incorporation of Persian loan words, his use of elements of Persian stories such as Laylah and Majnūn, and even his gaining inspiration from the works of Niẓāmī and Jāmīʿ. The “doubling” occurs when these layers are incorporated into the Kurdish tale, the retelling of which facilitates the author’s borrowing from named Kurdish predecessors. Nonetheless, Khānī retains his agency and authorship by coming up with a novel way in which “Persianate etiquette” could be employed to elevate the content, a task he carries out through original rhyme pairs and a lexicon that exceeded that of his Persian and Kurdish predecessors.

The final paper was delivered by Thibaut d’Hubert (University of Chicago). In “Dāstān Literature in Late Mughal Bengal: Shāh Gharīballāh’s Dobhāshī Āmīr Hāmjār puthi,” d’Hubert discussed the self-awareness and self-consciousness of Bengali writers like Shāh Gharīballāh in producing Dobhāshī literature and challenges previous understandings that define the hybridity of Dobhāshī within the framework of decline and submission. Literally translated as “(made) of two languages” and considered as an “interpreter’s language,” Dobhāshī was a result of natural blending as Persian and other languages spread in Mughal India. By considering the state of Persian education in Bengal in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Persian as the source of vernacular education, and transmission of Āmīr Hāmjā as a performed text, d’Hubert shows how Persian was adopted to assist in the vernacularization of literature. In doing so, he demonstrates one way in which Bengalis took inspiration from Persian literature to create and refashion indigenous didactic and moral texts.

Through these interdisciplinary panels, scholars held lively and provocative discussions on the problematic yet useful framework of the “Persianate.” It became clear by the end of the symposium that these interdisciplinary platforms can help scholars expand the methodological possibilities when conducting research on Persianate cultures. Collectively, each presentation revisited the main methodological complexities and cautions highlighted by Kuru’s excellent keynote, including scholarly responsibility and collaborative work.

 

ALISON TERNDRUP is a Ph.D. student in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Boston University. Her research focuses on the role of art in cross-cultural exchanges, with a particular interest in the diplomatic and propagandistic functions of public-facing imperial portraiture produced under the auspices of Ottoman Sultan Maḥmūd II (r. 1808-1839).

HYUNJIN CHO is a Ph.D. student in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Boston University. She is interested in visual modernity and traditionalism in paintings and prints from early Qajar Iran. Her M.A. paper was on Iranian postage stamps issued during the reign of Naṣīr al-Dīn Shāh (r. 1848-1896).

 

  1. Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Volume 2: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 293.
  2. Kuru mentioned in his keynote that there has previously been efforts to reassess the term “Persianate.” For example, he cited the conference “Persianate World: A Conceptual Inquiry” at Yale University in 2014 and the 2016 issue of Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East edited by Mana Kia and Afshin Marashi entitled “After the Persianate” (vol. 36, no. 3, 2016).

Defining the Persianate

The Comparative Persianate Aesthetics Symposium (Boston University, September 28-29, 2017)

Defining the Persianate

The Comparative Persianate Aesthetics Symposium (Boston University, September 28-29, 2017)