The Mi'rat al-Buldan Project: Geographical Knowledge and Networks of Power in Qajar Iran

This paper will consider a geographical text prepared by the Qajar court, the Mi'rat al-Buldan or "The Mirror of the Lands," as a critical source for Qajar imperial history, revealing methods for accessing and utilizing local networks of power in their state building projects. The Mi'rat al-Buldan project was undertaken by Nasir al-Din Shah in the 1860s and 1870s in an attempt to create a massive geographical dictionary of Iranian towns and villages. This project was so ambitious, in fact, that they found it impossible to complete and eventually abandoned it after the letter "jim" and a lengthy diversion into a chronicle history. Although incomplete, this text is a significant artifact of the ambitions of the Qajar state to know, control, and eventually reform elements of Iranian society through centralization, taxation, and economic development. This project also helped spur a series of local histories and geographies in the 1870s and 1880s in Iran, which emerged from the local networks of knowledge and power that the Qajars were attempting to utilize and control in completing their Mi'rat al-Buldan.