SUMMARY:THE QAJAR EMPIRE
The history of the Qajar Empire (1785-1925) has thus far been recounted through a limited and insular perspective that has neared the end of its road. The common narrative has been variations of the same theme: that of a weak and enfeebled dynastic 'nation' being bound by the encroachment of powerful European empires, while resisting and struggling to maintain its sovereignty. Such a view of Qajar history is then contrasted with a halcyon past when Iran was an empire in its own right. Far from being an empire, the Qajar 'guarded domain' is deemed a hollow crown, seen as the precursor of Iran's stunted modernizing reforms and nationalist dilemmas. This view of Qajar Iran is a search for the emergence of the modern, and thus has been largely focused on such themes as constitutionalism, nationhood, rebellion, revolution, and reform in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, while being predominantly based on European sources. Reading Qajar history through the lens of later times is the prevailing perspective in the field and has curtailed its historiography when compared to the scholarship on nineteenth-century Ottoman and Mughal history.
The proposed panel on the theme of 'Qajar Empire' seeks to disrupt and possibly transform this tradition by 1) tracing the persistence and transformation of early modern imperial forms of space and sovereignty in the Qajar era, and 2) seeking a renewal in approaching and conceptualizing the history of nineteenth-century Iran, where it is connected with global history rather than situated in a separated silo. Extending the time frame back into the early Qajar period during the first half of the nineteenth century, the papers in this panel approach the Qajar Empire in its early modern context. The first paper examines gift giving and diplomatic exchanges in the court of Fath 'Ali Shah (1797-1834). The second paper turns to detail the spatial history of Iran's eastern borderlands and the Durrani Kingdom of Afghanistan at the turn of the nineteenth century. The third paper explores urban and legal history in the Qajar shrine city of Qum. Taken together, this set of papers return to the lab to reveal different Persian language archives and historiographical reckonings of nineteenth-century Iran and the worlds of the Qajar Empire.