Lives in the 19th Century: Persian and Indian Perspectives

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.


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This paper seeks to explain the function that gifts and gift-giving served in the early Qajar state, and argues that an examination of gift-giving practices in Iran of the early nineteenth-century sheds light on the nature of Qajar administration and how the nascent Qajar government functioned. Early Qajar rulers relied not only on the established administrative class to serve in their bureaucratic ranks, they also drew on pre-existing administrative practices as a means to reconstitute a government that could rule over Iran. Gift-giving was one such practice.

What kinds of gifts were exchanged in the early nineteenth century? What were the political and economic circumstances under which the gifts were given? How did the gifts help to shape relationships between individuals? The exchange of gifts fulfilled three objectives for the Qajars: they were a demonstration of generosity and good-will by the ruler, an expression of allegiance by subjects, and a source of revenue for the government and administrators. Gifts in early nineteenth-century Iran were, in other words, expressions of largesse, loyalty, and lucre. By identifying these three roles that gifts had in Qajar Iran this paper moves away from prevailing notions in the historical literature that the exchange of gifts in pre-modern societies was primarily defined by moral considerations of reciprocity, or that it was fundamentally opposed to commodity exchange.

Much has been written on gifts, gift-giving, and the economy of gift exchange. Scholars have, however, largely overlooked the function of gifts in the history of Iran. The exchange of gifts was a central component to the “court society” of early nineteenth century Iran, and ignoring it renders historical analyses of politics and state formation in Iran incomplete. This paper therefore will contribute to scholarship on the political economy of the Qajar period while also engaging with broader debates across disciplinary and historiographical boundaries about the nature of state formation.

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The women’s quarter of Golestan Palace, where Nasser al-Din Shah’s many female relatives, wives, children, and differing classes of maids and servants resided, is a popular trope in European accounts of late 19th century Iran. Within such accounts, much of the representation of this space and the women that occupied it, has been seeped in orientalist language, which presented harems as idealized or barbaric domestic spaces, and as part of a timeless institution of Islamic culture. This paper critically engages with the dominant discourses about Nasser al-Din Shah’s harem in Western literature, through comparing and contrasting them with Persian narratives from within the harem. I will rely on primary sources including diaries, letters and journal entries from Taj Saltana, and Forough ed-Dowleh (both daughters of Nasser al-Din Shah), Abbas Mirza Zell al-Soltan (the Shah’s son), and E’temad al-Saltana (one of the Shah’s confidants who secretly recorded a daily journal of court affairs), and others, in order to provide a more complex analysis of this uniquely gendered space. The paper argues that in fact, for its time, the woman’s quarter of Nasser al-Din Shah’s court was one of the most economically and racially diverse spaces in Iran, housing various classes of Persian women as well as migrant women from Africa, Caucasia and Eastern Europe, their children, eunuchs and a host of both male relatives and non-relatives that had access or were sneaked into the court on a regular basis. This paper uses various narratives about this harem to examine some of the intimate and affective bonds that existed amongst its constituents, as well as explore the diverse kinds of powers they yielded within the royal court.

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The advent of British imperial administration and culture brought many changes in Indian society. The most transactional phase in this regard was 19th century in India which has witnessed many changes in the society. One of these changes was introduction of world’s first Persian Newspaper in India. These newspapers had brought many changes in Indian subcontinent.
Some of these Indian Persian newspapers are Miratul Akhbar, Aina-i-Sikander, Jam-i-Jahan Numa, Shamsul Akhbar, Akhbar-i-Sirampur, Mah-i-Alam Afroz, Akhbar-i-Ludhiana, Sirajul Akhbar , etc.

This presentation would be based on following bullet points:
• Depiction of Indian Society in Persian newspapers of India.
• Persian poetry in Persian newspapers of India.
• Imperial activities in Indian subcontinent as highlighted in Persian newspapers of India.
• Advertisement culture as published in Persian newspapers of India.
• International events and news from western countries as published in these newspapers.
• News of famous personalities like Dost Mohammad Khan of Afghanistan, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and many others as reflected in Persian newspapers of India.
• Persian newspapers and great mutiny of 1857 in India.
• Delhi’s past as reflected in Persian newspapers of India.
• Iran and other Persian speaking world as reflected in Persian newspapers of 19th century India.
• Trend of writing Persian newspaper in early Indian journalism phase: an inspiration for Persian journalism in Iran.
• News from cultural cities like Lucknow, Lahore and Herat.
• Literary and cultural study of the Persian newspapers of India.
Further the study in this field will give new ways to understand the Iranian studies through a different mean and also to understand the oriental world in a new dimension.
These oblivion newspapers are very rear and have a great archival value in Indian history. This entire presentation is based on the study of the original news papers of early 19th century India.