While many archival records from the Muslim world have been collected and edited, little has been done by means of approaching them with a greater historiographical agenda. This project is, therefore, designed to investigate the purposes for which an Islamic polity produced and preserved records. In order to achieve these goals, the project seeks to apply a ‘holistic’ rather than ‘extractive’ approach to the study of texts’ corpora. It thus focuses on one of the richest collection of Arabic-script records available from Islamic Central Asia, namely those preserved by the chancellery of the Qunghrat dynasty in Khiva in the 19th century. I propose to focus on this corpus of records in light of the following observations: collections of deeds relating to the medieval Muslim world lack integrity; secondly, the holdings of Ottoman archives are simply too numerous to favor the application of a holistic approach. Instead, the collection representing the output of the Qunghrat chancellery consists of 10,158 folia, which would lend itself well to analysis by an experienced research group. In addition, as long has been noted by the scholars of the field, there is much worth there to be found.
This project relies on a hermeneutic approach to ‘documents;’ that is, any text is conceived of as a linguistic strategy conferring utility upon some specific agent or agents, instead of simply categorizing the item within the traditional taxonomy of diplomatics. While the project aims at investigating a culture of documentation as it was developed in a region of the Muslim world―Khorezm, Central Asia―, it does not want to provide for an essentialist reading of Islamic documentary culture; by contrast, it aims at challenging the existing interpretations regarding an Islamic ‘archival mind’.
Questioning the intentions behind the production and the preservation of all the texts in the Khivan chancellery leads us to investigate their possible uses. Only by shedding light on the driving agencies behind the constitution of the Khivan archive can we hope to know how the contents of these archival records were treated. This approach will allow us to read these texts as they might most profitably be understood and consequently put us in the favorable position to suggest the best possible historical interpretation of such sources.