Book Launch: Mana Kia's "Persianate Selves: Memories of Place and Origin Before Nationalism"

Event Description

A conversation with Prof. Mana Kia and Prof. Purnima Dhavan

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Dr. Mana Kia is an Associate Professor at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. She is a scholar of early modern and modern social, cultural, and intellectual histories of West, Central, and South Asia from the 17th to 19th centuries, focusing on Indo-Persian literary cultures and social history. Dr. Kia’s research explores connective histories and intra-Asian mobilities, adopting a historiographic approach that reflects on the limit of contemporary conceptual language for the study of the past. She is the author of Persianate Selves: Memories of Place and Origin Before Nationalism (Stanford University Press, 2020) and a forthcoming study that outlines how a shared sense of aesthetic and ethical form was socially enacted in the transregional circulation of people, texts, and ideas between Iran and India.

Dr. Purnima Dhavan is an Associate Professor at the Department of History at the University of Washington, Seattle. She is also a faculty member at the South Asia Center in the Jackson School of International Studies and a faculty affiliate of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilization Department. Dr. Dhavan research concerns social and cultural history of early modern South Asia, with a particular focus on the relation between religious, linguistic, and status identities with cultural and political institutions and social mobilities of Mughal period. Dr. Dhavan’s research appears in journals such as Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East and key volumes on Sikh, Mughal, and Persian histories. She is the author of When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of Khalsa Martial Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2011) and The Lords of the Pen: Literary Associations in Early Modern South Asia (forthcoming).  

Persianate Selves: Memories of Place and Origin Before Nationalism (Stanford University Press, 2020)

For centuries, Persian was the language of power and learning across Central, South, and West Asia, and Persians received a particular basic education through which they understood and engaged with the world. Not everyone who lived in the land of Iran was Persian, and Persians lived in many other lands as well. Thus to be Persian was to be embedded in a set of connections with people we today consider members of different groups. Persianate selfhood encompassed a broader range of possibilities than contemporary nationalist claims to place and origin allow. We cannot grasp these older connections without historicizing our conceptions of difference and affiliation.

Mana Kia sketches the contours of a larger Persianate world, historicizing place, origin, and selfhood through its tradition of proper form: adab. In this shared culture, proximities and similarities constituted a logic that distinguished between people while simultaneously accommodating plurality. Adab was the basis of cohesion for self and community over the turbulent eighteenth century, as populations dispersed and centers of power shifted, disrupting the circulations that linked Persianate regions. Challenging the bases of protonationalist community, Persianate Selves seeks to make sense of an earlier transregional Persianate culture outside the anachronistic shadow of nationalisms.

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