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A Symposium on Literature and History in Persianate South Asia

Symposium on Literature and History image
Friday, May 15, 2015 -
9:30am to 5:30pm
St. Antony's College, Oxford
Syndicate Room

How do we historicise the circumstances around producing literature and what does that add to the study of history as a whole? Literary cultures often carry with them a scholarly apparatus of lexicons, critical texts, biographies of practitioners, records of public performances, and so on. We can apply Pascale Casanova’s concept of a “literature-world”, which he defines as “a literary universe relatively independent of the everyday world and its political divisions whose boundaries and operational laws are not reducible to those of ordinary political space”. The literature-world thus both intersects with material reality as literature is produced by people living in the everyday world but also presumes rich intertextuality that creates a parallel world of the imagination. Facing this, how do we write intellectual history, particularly intellectual history of the non-West, using literary texts and sources whose main purpose was to aid in the creation of literature? Of what use is the expectation that a literary work be expressive of its geographical and historical origin? Is it fruitful to compare and contrast modern ways of studying language and literature with the premodern discursive tools for producing and interpreting literature?

In particular, this seminar will consider the relationship of South Asia’s pre-modern cosmopolitan literary traditions (Persian and Sanskrit, though in this symposium, our key interest is Persian) with vernacular ones, rethinking anachronistic interpretations of an “artificial” and “anti-national” cosmopolitan opposed to vernacular traditions, which are supposedly natural and connected with the emergent nation.

There will be seven presentations from UK-based and international scholars (session 1, 9.30 am to 12.45 pm and session 2, 13.45 to 15.45) followed by a roundtable discussion (16.00 to 17.30) with Professors Edmund Herzig (Oxford), Polly O’Hanlon (Oxford), and Francesca Orsini (SOAS).

Convenor: Dr Arthur Dudney, Oriental Studies and TORCH, Oxford University

For more information, see or write to Students from outside of Oxford should enquire about travel bursaries which may be available for them.

Presented with support from the British Institute for Persian Studies, the Max Müller Fund, the Iran Heritage Foundation, the John Fell Fund, St. Antony’s College Asian Studies Centre, and the Antonian Fund.

Click here to view the poster for A Symposium on Literature and History in Persianate South Asia.

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Arthur Dudney
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