Investigating Literary Evidence for Transculturation in Medieval Iran and Central Asia (13th – 15th centuries)

Project Description

The rise of Chinggis Khan (d. 1227) and the expansion of his empire to western Eurasia in the 13th century dramatically changed the history of the Islamic World. The general view of the Mongol (and then Timurid) conquest of Central Asia and Iran is that of an unstoppable horde of nomadic warriors that put an end to the golden age of Islamic civilisation. However, the influx of nomadic people into the Islamic regions brought with it an unprecedented burst of cultural activity attested in the extensive amount of Islamic manuscripts that survived from the period. These two phenomena illustrate a contradiction in which illiterate and barbarian conquerors simultaneously destroyed a learned civilisation and triggered a booming cultural environment in the lands they conquered. To make sense of this paradox, it has often been assumed that these nomadic conquerors ‘ruled from horses’, enjoying the rewards of military success and leaving the day-to-day administration of their territories to native bureaucrats. In this view, nomads and their sedentary subjects lived in a mutually beneficial but culturally separated social arrangement. Based on some preliminary research this project aims to prove that rather than discrete exchanges, nomadic rulers closely interacted with sedentary elites to a point in which a process of transculturation occurred between the conqueror and conquered cultures. The scope of the project will be limited to the study of the territories ruled by nomads between the 13th and the first half of the 15th century in present day Iran and Central Asia. We will argue that both actors created a cohesive culture in which nomads and their sedentary subjects were equally involved in financing, producing and distributing knowledge in the region. We will prove this hypothesis by exploring not only traditional sources but implementing a novel methodology based on the analysis and interpretation of data obtained from codicological information contained in surviving Islamic manuscripts produced in this period. The codices (manuscripts) of the period that have come to our day remain largely unstudied, still holding unique information that can bring new evidence to the little understood process of transculturation between nomadic and sedentary people in this historical period. To facilitate access to an extensive amount of new information from these little studies codices, the project will commit to the develop of two digital endeavours. They will help to systematise the data for the project and provide online access to the information gathered to other researchers and the general public. An independent Analytical Database of Islamic manuscripts and the IARN (Inner Asia Research Network) will be publicly accessible and will serve as reference research tools for wider research on Islamic and Eurasian studies.