MultiSession The Mughal Empire: New Debates, Part 1: The Mughal Imperial Imaginary between Soldiers and Scribes

AHA Session 230
Conference on Asian History 2
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Belmont Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Chair:
Lisa Trivedi, Hamilton College
Papers:
Mughal Lives in Frontier Sindh
Manan Ahmed, Institute of Islamic Studies, Freie Universitšt Berlin
Comment:
Sudipta Sen, University of California, Davis

Session Abstract

The central narrative of the Mughal empire (1526-1857), which spawned from a conquest state in north India into an enduring political system in the sixteenth century, has mainly been taken from its own vast and sophisticated chronicle tradition. Mughal sovereigns took great interest in supervising and in some cases writing down the histories of their dynasties and reigns. This panel proposes to complicate the accepted view from the Mughal center by examining new archives and opening up regional perspectives. The paper entitled, “Mughals, Mongols, and Mongrels: Revisiting the Tensions Among the Military Elite of the Early Mughal Polity,” for example, sheds new light on the early phase of Mughal politics by focusing not on the new capital of Delhi but on the politics of the small and impoverished kingdom of Kabul where the socially dislocated Timurid elite had come together after their defeat and exile from Central Asia. In a similar vein, but focusing on a later period, when the Mughals were firmly ensconced in India, the paper “Mughal Lives in Frontier Sindh” assesses the lives and practices of the Mughal bureaucracy in the province of Sindh at the margins of empire. It aims to bring to life the larger world of Mughal secretaries and scribes as they sought to enact the new imperial system in far-flung spaces. Finally, the third paper brings another “scribal” perspective, that of a well-placed Brahman at the court of Shah Jahan.  It examines the genre of administrative letter-writing to render the cosmopolitan “epistolary self” of a Persianate Hindu courtier and Mughal gentleman. In effect, these papers help open new debates on the way the Mughal imperial momentum was sustained not only by the efforts of a few key dynasts, but by a larger and inclusive group of soldiers and scribes who participated in a Persianate culture that linked together India, Iran and Central Asia.

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