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Department of History

H246 Cities of Paradise and Empire

Course Code:
154800211
Unit value:
1
Taught in:
Full Year

Pathway: Islamic World; Third World; Near and Middle East. 

In the early modern period of Islamicate history, between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, three new world empires emerged, the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. These polities dramatically altered the landscape of the Islamicate world, having far-reaching consequences that remained into the twentieth century. The rise of each of these new empires centered on newly invigorated ideologies of sacred kingship, and novel institutions of administration and control.  Not coincidentally, these changes corresponded with major transformations in the form and function of cities, and these were in fact integral to the political and religious developments at imperial courts. Changes in the ways that rulers conceived of cities, constructed them, inhabited them, and administered them forced urban spaces into the very heart of rulers’ new programs of imperial order; cities became the locus of competition for authority between political rivals and became the main stage upon which rulers performed their power in ways that they hadn’t done before.

Because the histories of empires and of cities in the Islamic early modern period are tightly interlinked, this course proceeds from the assumption that these phenomena should be studied in tandem and therefore offers students the opportunity to study the relationship between them. Although the course centers on the great cities that emerged with the rise and flowering of the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires, a fundamental learning objective is to trace the various ways in which the concepts of “city” and, in particular, “Islamic city,” have been theorized by Muslim thinkers over time. Consequently, students will examine the ways in which real cities have corresponded with, deviated from, and transformed these ideals, especially as these were constructed as part of imperial programs. Moreover, students will also consider the ways in which modern scholars have framed the academic study of the Islamic city, paying special attention to the ways in which their assumptions have shaped our understanding of the history of these cities. In coordination with these conceptual problems, the most pressing task will be to understand the particular ways in which the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals each retooled the notions of the Islamic city that were already in circulation, and transformed existent cities in light of a contentious discourse surrounding the sacred authority of the Islamic ruler vis-à-vis religious scholars and sufi saints.

As we proceed, our weekly readings will swing between key topics in the history of the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires and urban spaces on the one hand, and on the other hand, general theoretical works on the Islamic city, paired with case studies on particular Islamic cities.  Accordingly, a good portion of the readings in the first half of the course deals with studies on earlier periods, along with occasional works on more modern Islamic cities for comparison. While the overarching goal of the course will be to trace how Islamic cities and empires changed over time, the class will be especially concerned with understanding the particularly dynamic relationship between cities and empires that emerged during the early modern period.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

This course covers the Ottoman, Savafid and Mughal empires, from the rise of Ottoman rule in the mid 1400’s to the dawn of modernity in the Middle East launched by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1797.

The course is structured along a thematic format and will endeavour an interdisciplinary approach, combining perspectives and approaches of urban history with the survey of the wider historical themes of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal polities. It will examine the political, social, religious and cultural history of the three great Islamic empires from an urban vantage point, following the rise of the great metropolises of the pre-modern Islamic world. The investigation of the evolution, expansion, and self-definition of cities and the study of the urban micro-cosmos functions as analogy and means of induction from the specific urban order to the wider political context of the empires’ history. Considering the role of cities as commercial and political centres, as nexus of the local-provincial and international, they serve as icons of political and economic centralisation, as seismograph for the rise and fall of the empires in a wider historical context and as still tangible epitome of the cultural, technological and artistic achievements of the Islamic empires.

The course will examine the role of cities, analyse the specific political and social subtext of different cities, inquire into the meaning of urbanism and empire, trace the relationship between urban centres and the provincial periphery, the interaction between city and its rural as well as tribal hinterlands. Investigating the historical tiers of cities like Delhi, Herat, Samarkand, Isfahan, Baghdad, Damascus, Aleppo, Istanbul, Cairo, Jerusalem and others, the course will discuss the central themes of Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal past, including the formation of these vast empires, their imperial aspirations, territorial expansion and conquest, roles and perspectives of Islam and kingship, commonalities and differences between them, their political, commercial and cultural interactions, as well as the effects of the encounter with Europe and the impact of the rise of the European powers.

The course is primarily intended to provide a introduction to the central topics and questions of Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal history. By approaching the history of these states through the examination of a range of leading urban centres, the course also introduces a approaches and methods of urban history.

Timetable

Exam (40%) , 2 x Coursework (50%) and Class Exercise (10%)

Suggested reading

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. “The Islamic City--Historic Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (May, 1987), pp. 155-176.
Abu-Lughod, Janet L. “The Sociology of the City—European Antecedents” from Chapter 1 and “The Origin and Development of Cities,” in Changing Cities: Urban Sociology, 6-16 and 19- 51.
Alam, Muzaffar, “State Building under the Mughals: Religion, Culture, and Politics,” Cahier de Asia Centrale.
Babaie, Sussan. Isfahan and its palaces: statecraft, Shi'ism and the architecture of conviviality in early modern Iran. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. (Selections)
Babayan, “Sufis, Darvishes and Mullahs: The Controversy over the Spiritual and Temporal Dominion in Seventeenth Century Safavid Iran” in Safavid Persia: Safavid Persia: the history and politics of an Islamic society. New York: I.B. Tauris, 1996, 117-137.
Balabanlilar, Lisa. “Lords of the Auspicious Conjunction: Turco-Mongol Imperial Identity on the Subcontinent,” Journal of World History, Volume 18, Number 1, March 2007, 1-39.
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Blake, Stephen. “Chapter 2,” in Shahjahanabad: The Sovereign City in Mughal India, 1639-1739. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Bonine, “Morphogenesis of Iranian Cities.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 69 (1979): 208-224.
Boyar, Ebru & Kate Fleet. A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Burbank and Cooper, “Imperial Trajectories,” Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, 1-22
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Dale, Stephen, “Empires and Emporia: Palace, Mosque, Market, and Tomb in Istanbul, Isfahan, Agra, and Delhi,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 53, (2010): 212-229
Dale, Stephen. The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
DeWeese, “Sacred History for a Central Asian Town Saints, Shrines, and Legends of Origin in Histories of Sayrām, 18th-19th Centuries” in Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée. l'Association pour I'Etude des Sciences Humaines en Afrique du Nord et au Proche-Orient, 2000. 245-29.
DeWeese, “Sacred Places and ‘Public’ Narratives: The Shrine of Ahmad Yasavi in Hagiographical Traditions of the Yasavi Sufi Order, 16th-17th centuries.” Muslim World. 90 (2000): 353-376.
Eickelman, “ Is There an Islamic City? The Making of a Quarter in a Moroccan Town.” International Journal of Middle East Studies. 5 (1974): 274-294.
al-Fārābī, On the Perfect State (mabādīʾ ārāʾ ahl al-madīnah al-fāḍilah). Translated by Richard Walzer. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985. (SELECTIONS)
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Gaborieau, Marc. “Indian Cities,” in The City in the Islamic World, 181-204.
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Lopez, “Crossroads within the Wall” in The Historian and the City, edited by Oscar Handlin and John Burchard. Cambridge: MIT Press and Harvard University Press, 1963, 27-43.
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Matthee, Rudi. “From the battlefield to the harem: Did womens seclusion increase from early to late Safavid times?” in New Perspectives on Safavid Iran: Majmuʿah-i Safaviyyah in Honor of Roger Savory. Edited by Colin Paul Mitchell. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Matthee, Rudi. “The Safavid Economy as Part of the World Economy,” in Iran and the World in the Safavid Age, 31-50.
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Moin, Ahmad Azfar. The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kinship and Sainthood in Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. (Selections)
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Richards, John. Chapter 9: “The Economy, Societal Change, and International Trade,” in The Mughal Empire, 185-204.
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Sinopoli, Carla. “Monumentality and Mobility in Mughal Capitals,” Asian Perspectives 33:2 (1994), 293-308.
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Thys-Şenocak, Lucienne. “The Gendered City,” in The City in the Islamic World ed. S. Jayyusi, R.Holod, A Petruccioli, A. Raymond. Leiden: Brill, 2008. 877-894.
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