Friday, December 30, 2011

Conference (1): New Debates on the Mughal Empire at the American Historical Association

Just in case some lucky folks are going to the American Historical Association conference, you may be interested to check out the following two panels:

AHA Session 230: The Mughal Empire: New Debates, Part 1: The Mughal Imperial Imaginary between Soldiers and Scribes

AHA Session 257: The Mughal Empire: New Debates, Part 2: The Performance of Sovereignty in the Mughal Empire: New Comparisons and Contexts

Its fair to say the attendants reflect nearly half of North American historians who work on the Mughals!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lecture (3): Barbara Metcalf on a Begum of Bhopal in Colonial India

At the risk of turning into one of those blogs that incessantly links to videos, I present to you a third lecture, this time concerning a female Muslim ruler in colonial India, Shah Jahan Begum of Bhopal, by Barbara Metcalf. Metcalf requires no introduction to scholars of South Asia or historians in general; she most recently served as president of the American Historical Association (AHA). I had the pleasure of seeing Barbara Metcalf when she came to give a talk at McGill University (more or less on the same subject as the videos linked below).

There are two things that I'd like to comment on that speaks, in some ways, volumes about Dr. Metcalf. The first was that at the talk we had quite a few South Asian studies faculty members who, for a lack of a better word, were giddy to see Dr. Metcalf's talk. In the Q&A that followed the respect and admiration that they felt for Dr. Metcalf was very apparent in their comments and questions (read: all that was missing was "let me start by saying I'm a big fan"; indeed, most scholars of South Asia are). The second was that how friendly and personable Dr. Metcalf was. After the Q&A she spoke individually to each person who asked her a question, their names, their research, and engaged with it as best she could. Dr. Barbara Metcalf's erudition, humility, and social graces were something that really stuck with me. I have linked to her talk, this time given at the Presidential Address at the AHA.

Barbara Metcalf, "Islam and Power in Colonial India: The Making and Unmaking of a Muslim Prince(ss)" January 7, 2011. For a transcript click here courtesy of AHA.

Part 2 and 3 are available after the break.

Lecture (2): Sanjay Subrahmanyam on Orientalism, Art, and Indo-European Encounters

Another treat by Sanjay Subrahmanyam, this time his key-note address "Courtly Encounters in Early Modern Eurasia" for the Global Encounters Initiative Symposium held at University of British Columbia. This webcast shares with the previous one posted the theme of trans-regional encounters and exchange between the visual cultures of Mughal India and early-modern Europe, albeit with a different archive. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lecture (1): Sanjay Subrahmanyam on Orientalism and Firangis in Mughal India

Above is a lecture by Sanjay Subrahmanyam, "Before Orientalism: From Paris to Patna in the 17th Century". He is the author of the recent monograph, Three Ways to Be Alien: Travails and Encounters in the Early Modern World. Waltham, MA: Brandies University Press, 2011.

Courtesy of The Byrn Lecture series sponsored by the Vanderbilt Department of History (uploaded on youtube).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Merry Mughal Christmas

The Adoration of the Shepards, Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund, 2005.145.6

available: Mirʾāt al-quds (Mirror of Holiness): A Life of Christ for Emperor Akbar (Brill, 2011), p. 86

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Current Projects (1): Shāh Qulī Khān Maḥram

A Sleeping Man is Oppressed by a Nightmare, illustration from Al-Suʿūdī, Maṭāliʿ al-saʿāda wa manābiʿ al-siyāda 
(The Ascension of Propitious Stars and Sources of Sovereign), Istanbul c. 1582
The Morgan Museum

I came across this arresting illustration and it occurred to me that as academics, our projects are very much like this jinn who comes to disturb restful sleep. The first semester of my PhD is over but as always there are projects abound. At the moment I am focusing on utilizing my MA thesis for a paper, tentatively about early Mughal politics and historiography with a focus on the life of one amīr, Shāh Qulī Khān Maḥram (d. 1010/1601). It feels a bit odd returning to the project, not having touched it for months after obsessively researching it for over a year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Historiography (1): Ghaznavids

The Ghaznavid historian Abū al-Faz̤l Bayhaqī (d. 470/1077) on historiography:

Historical information about the past is said to be of two kinds, with no third way about it: either one must hear them from someone or read about in a book. The necessary condition for the former is that the informant should be trustworthy and veracious, that one’s intellect should find it sound and authentic, and that it should be confirmed by the Word of God “Don’t give credence to any reports that are not acceptable to your judgement”. The same goes for a book: for whatever one reads in a book, so long as it is not rejected as implausible by one’s intellect, is held as being true by the reader, and the wise will also listen to it and take it in. (Bosworth's translation, vol. 2, pp. 370-71).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Note on Transliteration

Historians of Islam/Muslims in pre-modern India face the unenviable and complicated matter of coming up with a coherent and intelligible system of transliteration for scholarship that utilizes sources in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and more recently Brajbhasha. Persianists will be the first to counter with their own complaints with trying to utilize an efficient transliteration system. The early standard for transliteration in Islamic Studies was with Brill's Encyclopaedia of Islam, new edition (now called 2nd edition). It was not all together an unattractive system though it did have some particular quirks (dj for the letter ج). The main problem with the transliteration system was that it took no account for the very different pronunciation of the letters such ث or ذ that were pronounced ‘th’ and ‘dh’ in Arabic and ‘s’ and ‘z’ in Persian and Urdu but were transliterated as th and dh all the same. The use of the letter ḳ for ق does not appear to have caught on with Arabists even. The Library of Congress offered an amiable solution to the problem by proposing three different transliteration systems for Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, making small modifications for Persian and more for Urdu, while maintaining links between the three. While it concedes to the three languages considerable flexibility, the same name can be transliterated in radical different names, like ثنا‍ء اللہ   is transliterated Thanā’ Allāh if it appears in an Arabic source, Sanā’ Allāh in Persian and S̲anāʼullāh in Urdu! Furthermore certain names, which are commonly known by one spelling convention end up transliterated completely different when looking in source material. For example the six Mughal dynast Aurangzeb becomes Awrangzīb.

The transliterations systems offered by Encyclopaedia Iranica and Urdu specialists are not necessarily that much easier. The two systems that seem to have won out are the modified Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed. (used by the New Cambridge History of Islam) and the Library of Congress, the latter for obvious reasons of aiding researchers. Yet for South Asian pre-modernists the following considerations and troubles continue: how do you maintain a standard coherent system which while paying attention to source material doesn’t fall into the trap of having transliterations like qāz̤ī-i quz̤āt confuse everyone. Furthermore, since many (for example) Mughal texts used Arabic titles as a practice of prestige, does one transliterate them according to guidelines set by Arabic or Persian? Suddenly a lot of Mughal taz̲kirahs (biographical dictionaries) would become tadhkiras.

It is no surprise that recent works on Mughal history have eschewed transliterations systems altogether, a trend that is also being adopted by publishers who want their books (regardless of whether they are on South Asia or not) to be read by undergrads. Unfortunately there is no easy or happy solution if we choose to adopt a transliteration system, but in the meantime we must beg the forgiveness of Sher Shah, the Sur ruler of India in the middle of the 16th century who is now Shīr Shāh according to the Library of Congress Persian system or, even worse, Shayr Shāh, if one wishes to be dogmatic about South Asian Persian pronunciation.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Firangis (1): Travellin' Thru'?

The European encounter with Mughal India has been a subject of considerable scholarly attention and its archive continues to be a fascinating resource for historians of the period. Due to the considerable number of the types of source (trading companies' records, travel accounts, collections of letters, missionary texts) and contexts it would be incredibly difficult to gloss the field. There was a proliferation of writing activity by Jesuit priests, adventurers, travellers, merchants, and professionals who made their way to Mughal India’s shores. Their writings have not only been used to map out Europe’s encounter with Mughal India but also to have a different perspective on Mughal dynastic and social history. However, as Colin P. Mitchell has shown, European travel accounts can hardly be viewed as the objective lens onto Mughal politics as some historians have considered them to be.

Recently, a professor of literature and culture in early modern England, Jonathan Gil Harris, has undertaken a project about European travellers in Mughal India. He is currently working on a book project ‘Becoming Indian: The Event of Travel in the Time of Shakespeare’ which “examines the embodied/out-of-body experiences of European travelers to India in the seventeenth century” (Current Research, English Department webpage: George Washington University [8-Dec-11]).  The work is significant, and like Mitchell who brought a considerable knowledge of Jacobean drama to bear on Thomas Roe's writings, Harris's expertise should provide considerable insight into ideas of authorship behind these accounts.

Related to his project he has written a series of articles in the Hindustan Times about his own experiences of embodiment during the course of his research in India, interspersing them with vivid accounts of the figures he is studying. I am linking the articles as I find them.

Part I:   The Fakir of Ajmer
Part IV: The Heera-Wallah of Golcanda

Over the next couple of weeks I shall be adding a basic bibliography on the topic although I am by no means an expert on European travel accounts in Mughal India.

Mitchell, Colin P. Sir Thomas Roe and the Mughal Empire. Karachi: University of Karachi, Area Study of Europe, 2000.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Research (1): Ghaznavids

I am currently in the midst of writing a term paper on the Ghaznavid ruler Sebüktegin (d. 387/997) and the epistle of counsel or pand-nāmah attributed to him. Compared to his son, Maḥmūd of Ghazna (d. 421/1030), Sebüktegin has never received much attention. As of now (2-Dec-11), he is yet to receive an entry in Encyclopaedia Iranica, as well as Encyclopaedia of Islam, 3rd ed. Such is often the case with more famous sons, something Humāyūn* could probably attest to. Here is a working bibliography of some useful works for the Ghaznavids:

Bartol’d, V. V. Turkestan down to the Mongol invasion. 3rd ed. Translated by T. Minorsky and edited by C. E. Bosworth. London: Luzac, 1968.
Bayhaqī, Abū al-Faz̤l. The History of Beyhaqi (The History of Sultan Mas‘ud of Ghazna, 1030-1041) by Abu’l-Fażl Beyhaqi [Mujalladāt]. Translated by C. E. Bosworth and revised by Mohsen Ashtiany. Ilex Foundation Series no. 6. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011. 3 vols.
Bosworth C. E. “Early sources for the History of the first four Ghaznavid sultans (977-1041).” The Islamic Quarterly 7 no. 1-2 (1963): 3-22.
--------. “Mahmud of Ghazna in Contemporary Eyes and in Later Persian Literature.” Iran 4 (1966): 85-92.
--------. The Ghaznavids: Their Empire in Afghanistan and Eastern Iran, 994-1040. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1963. 
--------. The Later Ghaznavids: Splendour and Decay: The Dynasty in Afghanistan and Northern India, 1040-1186. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1977.
Gardīzī, Abū Saʿīd ʿAbd al-Ḥayy. The Ornament of Histories: A History of the Eastern Islamic Lands AD 650-1041 [Zayn al-akhbār]. BIPS Persian Studies Series no. 4. London: I. B. Taurus, 2011. 
Jūzjānī, Minhāj al-Dīn b. Sirāj al-Dīn. Ṭabaqāt-i Nāṣirī. 2nd ed. Edited by ʿAbd al-Ḥayy Ḥabībī. 2 vols. Kabul: Kābul Puhani maṭbaʿah 1342/1963. English translation by H. G. Raverty. T̤abaḳāt-i Nāṣiri: A General History of the Muhammadan Dynasties of Asia. 2 vols. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corp., 1970. 
Nāẓim, Muḥammad. The Life and Times of Sulṭān Maḥmūd of G̲h̲azna. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1931. 
--------. “The Pand-Nāmah of Subuktigīn.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1933): 605-628.
*The second Mughal dynast Naṣīr al-Dīn Humāyūn, son of Bābur, father of Akbar. 

Maḥmūd receiving Abbasid robes of investiture, Illustration from Jāmiʻ al-tawārīkh c. 1315,
Edinburgh University Library, Or. Ms. 20, fol. 121r.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Scholarship (1)

Bābur remarked in his memoirs about his uncle Sulṭān-Maḥmūd Mīrzā something that I believe applies much too often to many academics, who perhaps under pressure from the Publish or Perish academic paradigm, produce articles and even books that would have benefited from deeper and broader research. Work that suffers, to use a metaphor, from having the teabag not steep long enough in the water.

He wrote that Sulṭān-Maḥmūd Mīrzā "had poetical ability and made a divan, but his poetry was weak and flat. He composed too much; he probably should have composed less” (Bābur-nāmah, tr. Thackston, Modern Library edition, p. 31). Annette Beveridge's translation is perhaps more brutal, but equally apt: "He had a taste for poetry and put a dīwān together but his verse is flat and insipid,--not to compose is better than to compose verse such as his" (AB trans, vol. I p. 46). 

Update: this article was brought to my attention by a Maghribist and I thought it germane to this post.

Lynn Worsham, "Fast Food Scholarship," The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2011; accessed online December 14, 2011. Available online: <>

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Welcome to all those who have randomly stumbled across this blog. It is intended to be a majmaʿ, or repository of sorts, of all things Mughal, or curious and delightful finds that may be of interest to a Mughalist, lay or trained. It's likely to reflect my random interests in Mughal history than necessarily more popular or pressing issues of Mughal historiography, and its likely not to be overly articulate as I tend not to be, but I promise to not adorn my prose like those I study. And so, as people often say, a picture is worth more than a thousand words I shall introduce a telling (and pertinent, considering the recent  and uneven spate of work on early Mughal India and women during this time period) one of Bābur seeking the advice of his grandmother, Esän Dawlat Begim, regarding the rebellious Ḥasan Yaʿqūb. Bābur said of her "Few amongst women will have been my grandmother's equals for judgment and counsel; she was very wise and far-sighted and most affairs of mine were carried through under her advice." (Annette Beveridge's translation of the Bābur-nāmah from Chagatay Turkish, vol. I p. 43). 

Morgan Museum MS M.458.18.
Artist: Sānvalah (fl. 1580s–1590s).
The image is from the Morgan Museum's website for their Islamic Manuscripts collection.