This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals
Many books of the past are today readily considered “important” or “popular” in the meaning of widely read and studied during a long period. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, this assumption remains without any evidence as the field of manuscript studies on whether and how a work was actually copied and read is still in its beginnings. This paper focuses on one of the major historical narratives of the Persianate world, the general history Ḥabīb al-siyar (Beloved of careers). Written by the Herati court secretary Ghiyās al-Dīn Khvāndamīr in the 1520s, it was copied extensively during three hundert years all over the Persian reading world, i.e. Anatolia, Iran, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. By having a look at colophons, ownership stamps and remarks, comments and other paratextual elements contained in hundreds of manuscripts still extant today, the questions of when, where, and whom the work was copied for and/or read and possessed by shall be addressed. Connected to this is the important issue of how the actual text – the version of history presented in the work – had been changed and transmitted by scribes and readers. By analysing these alterations, it is possible to get insights in the different ways the Ḥabīb al-siyar was read and adapted at various places and at various times. This brings up the broader question of what modern researchers might detect when the focus of research shifts from reconstructing “original” texts for an edition to the question of how a text like the Ḥabīb al-siyar in its different manuscripts was reshaped from the 1520s to the 1850s in a geographical range from Istanbul in the west to Dhaka in the east. For answering these questions exemplarily, thorough textual comparisons of parts of the Ḥabīb al-siyar and its paratextual elements will be presented.