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  • Introduction:Trade and Traffic in the Persianate World
  • Pardis Mahdavi (bio) and Arash Khazeni (bio)

This special section of the journal brings together a collection of essays derived from a conference on the theme of "Trade and Traffic in the Persianate World," funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and held at Pomona College, in Claremont, California, in September 2008. The purpose of the conference was to gather together an interdisciplinary group of scholars interested in approaching the history and anthropology of Iran from a global perspective. More specifically, the conference set out to explore the histories and ethnographies of travelers, merchants, and those engaged in trade and traffic across the Persianate world, a geographic area that comprises West Asia, Central Asia, and India and the Indian Ocean and where historically Persian language and culture have thrived. Spanning the period from late antiquity to modern times, the essays in this special section detail the movement of bodies, commodities, ideas, technologies, and diseases across imperial and national boundaries over the longue durée, in the tradition of Fernand Braudel's The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World. Through new research and robust interpretations, this collection of essays views globalization in the context of its long history. In doing so, all of the essays break away from geographic frontiers and blur boundaries to reveal the ties between Iran and the world around it.

This special section takes us from the late antique period to the nineteenth century, with a closing ethnographic foray into the present, to explore economic and cultural exchanges in the Persianate world. The first series of essays focuses on trade in the late antique period. Touraj Daryaee's piece investigates bazaars, merchants, and trade in late antique Iran, while examining Sassanian trade with Asia and the West. Jenny Rose in her essay uses Central Asian manuscripts, inscriptions, and iconography to analyze the impact of Sogdian travelers, merchants, artisans, monks, and missionaries in networks of trade, commerce, and religion, across both cultural and religious boundaries. Khodadad Rezakhani takes up the important question of the fabled Silk Road, its geographic construction over time, and the historical lacuna that shrouds the middle of the road.

The next group of essays deals with histories of trade and travel in the early modern period (ca. 1400–1850). Kaveh Louis Hemmat's essay examines the Khataynama, a Persianate travel narrative and geographic and political description of China written in 1516 by the Transoxianan merchant, Sayyid 'Ali Akbar Khata'i, as evidence of the attitudes of merchants between the distant borders of western China and Anatolia. Rudi Matthee's article considers the contrasts, ambiguities, paradoxes, and contradictions evoked by Iran in the writings and imagination of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European travelers. Arash Khazeni's [End Page 398] essay considers the environmental history of the Afghan frontier city of Balkh and its role as an emporium for the Central Eurasian horse trade until the spread of cholera and malaria in the early nineteenth century precipitated the city's decline. Nile Green's essay traces the development of printing in early-nineteenth-century Iran through the activities of a newly mobile generation of technical students who were dispatched to seek the "new sciences" in Europe and brought back with them a whole series of objects associated with printing—the "matter" of printed books, including Persian Bibles, English-language books, new portable presses, paper, and ink imported from St. Petersburg and London.

The final series of essays in this collection details histories and ethnographies of traffic and illicit trades in modern times. Thomas F. McDow's essay follows the misadventures of Sir Richard Burton as he set out on his challenging journey across the Indian Ocean for Mecca in 1853, assuming the identity of and masquerading as a Persian, Pashtun, and Arab traveler along the way. Sabri Ates delves into the question of the Ottoman-Iranian frontier, which fluctuated with the fortunes of war and was never a strict dividing line until it was permanently fixed in the nineteenth century, thus complicating the continuous transfer of corpses from Iran for burial in holy Shi'i sites in Ottoman Iraq. Pardis Mahdavi, an anthropologist among historians in this collection, closes...


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