Logic of the archives in Khurasan and Egypt, eighth-tenth centuries

By Ahmad Khan
Submitted to Session P6510 (Notions of the Archive in the Medieval Middle East, 2021 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
7th-13th Centuries;
Recent works in the field of medieval Islamic history have established the importance of archives for the study of social, economic, and political history. This presentation uses legal texts, papyri, and local histories from Khurasan and Egypt (eighth-tenth centuries) to turn our attention to the logic of archives that existed among communities in Khurasan and Egypt (and, indeed, elsewhere). Looking beyond a single cache of documents or one literary genre promises broader insights into how different kinds of documentation depict and represent social, economic, political, or religious realities. An ethnographic account of how jurists, administrators, tax collectors, scribes, and chroniclers produced documentation for archiving raises questions about the singular conception of archives in modern scholarship and the epistemological force that we sometimes accord to archival materials. Closer attention to this social logic, via diverse ethnographies of documentation in eighth-tenth century Khurasan and Egypt, can help us move beyond the lure of the archive to consider indigenous conceptualisations of record-keeping, storage, use of documents, archival sensibilities, and memory among the subjects and communities we study.