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  • The Persianate World: The Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca ed. by Nile Green
  • Danielle Ross
The Persianate World: The Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca. Edited by Nile Green. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019. xvi + 340 pp. ISBN 978-0-520-30092-7. $34.95 (paper).

The Persianate World sets out to fill a gap in both Persian studies and linguistic history: exploring the geographic frontiers of the Persian-writing world. As Nile Green notes in the book's introduction, the concepts of the "Persianate world" or "Persian zone" as a geographical space in which Persian language, literature, and culture enjoyed hegemony was articulated over fifty years ago by Marshall G. S. Hodgson in The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in World Civilization (3 vols) (Chicago University of Chicago Press, 1974). However, while the concept of a Persianate cultural-linguistic community continues to enjoy currency in Middle Eastern and Inner Asian/Eurasian history, the Persianate community has not gained the same level of prominence in the study of World History as the Latin, Greek koine, Arabic, Sanskrit, or Classical Chinese cultural-linguistic communities. Scholars and laypeople outside the field of Persian studies still tend to associate the Persian language primarily with modern Iran and, sometimes, with Islam in general.

The Persianate World's fourteen contributors, an international collective of junior and senior scholars specializing in Ottoman, Russian, Central Asian, South Asia, and/or East Asian history, set out to address these issues by documenting "Persographic" culture (the production and consumption of texts in the Persian language) on the [End Page 161] outskirts of the Persianate zone. Their focus on the "frontier" serves two purposes: (1) to denationalize the history of Persianate culture by emphasizing the role of non-native speakers in Persianate literary production; (2) to challenge the image of Persian as an Islamic language by examining non-Muslim participation in Persian written culture.

The Persianate World begins with an introduction in which Green describes the geographical spaces, human communities, and chronological periods that made up the Persianate world. Green's history begins in the 800s C.E. after the spread of Islam into Indo-Iranian-speaking regions and ends in the first decades of the twentieth century as new nation states and national movements promoted printing and education in vernacular languages as an alternative to transnational Persographic culture. The Persianate World focuses on the last five hundred years of this history, 1400 to 1900.

The book's first section, "Pan-Eurasian Expansion," explores the spread of Persian writing into peripheral regions of the Persianate world in the 1400s–1600s. Murat Umut Inan details the embrace of Persian in the Ottoman Empire's imperial-bureaucratic and religious-mystical circles. Thibaut d'Hubert traces the use of Persian as a ritual language among villagers in Bengal. Graeme Ford draws attention to Ming bureaucrats' use of Persian as a diplomatic language for communications with Central Asia. Devin DeWeese considers the presence and limits of Persian literature in the Middle Volga region and Siberia.

The second section, "The Constraints of Cosmopolitanism," teases out the limits of Persian's influence as a literary language and its decline in prestige from 1600 to 1800. Purima Dhavan uses the careers of several Punjabi authors to explore the failure of Persian to overcome factional competition and create a unified, cosmopolitan intellectual world. David Brophy argues that Turkic replaced Persian as the Qing dynasty's language of diplomatic communications with Central Asia. Alfrid Bustanov shows how students traveling to Bukhara were the main conveyors of Persianate literature to northern Eurasia; these students' choice of other educational destinations (Egypt, Istanbul, Moscow) over Bukhara led to the diminishment of Persian-language knowledge among Russia's Muslims. Alexandre Papas argues that the status of Persian in Eastern Turkistan as an erudite language limited the number of people who mastered it and, ultimately, led to Persian being perceived as a language of the occult.

The third section, "New Empires, New Nations," offers four case studies of the complicated fate of Persographic culture in the 1800s–1920s. Michael Fisher argues that Persian enjoyed continued [End Page 162] and even increased prestige in India under British rule...


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