Abstract

How can one use folk and popular evidence for non-western and non-elite rural social history in periods that are sparsely documented by other forms of evidence? That is, what if oral literature is the majority of what there is? While oral literatures contain a great deal of information for historians, this claim is not necessarily premised on a transparent reading of explicit information in specific works. How might we see processes of written mediation and transmission of (originally) oral literature as providing us with more information, rather than as distorting a primary source? And how might we productively approach heavily stylized lyric genres which provide seemingly little social information? Through the intertwined analysis of rural poetry and biodata related to eastern Afghanistan in the late 1940s and 1950s, provided in a genre of biographical directory called tazkira, I argue for a dynamic reading of popular literatures as documentary evidence and as political weapons that were designed to create social change and catalyze new types of political awareness. I argue that the historian’s attention to changes in literary genres and changing construals of the “ideal addressee” in these texts can illuminate social change.

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