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Crisis, Collapse, Militarism and Civil War: The History and Historiography of 18th Century Iran

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“A neglected area of study.” “Woefully underdeveloped.” An “under-studied field.” “Severely limited” in terms of the subjects and themes historians have covered. Such is the state of scholarship on eighteenth-century Iran, according to a few contributors to this volume. What accounts for this situation? Part of the explanation is related to sources: for years, it was assumed that the turmoil and upheavals of Iran’s eighteenth century had either destroyed the sources needed to study the period or had resulted in few sources being produced. But another likely explanation is the effect that early European-language scholarship on the eighteenth century had in shaping the views of subsequent generations of scholars. In an influential article, Ann Lambton wrote of the “tribal resurgence and the decline of the bureaucracy in eighteenth-century” Iran. She described the era as one of “political contraction” and “economic decline,” and a period in which “[o]rderly administration ceased. Insecurity became the order of the day.” Another historian described the eighteenth century as “a horrible period in Iranian history — horrible to read about, horrible to disentangle, horrible to have tried to live in — I say tried because, at least if one was prominent, one probably stood a better chance then than in any other period of being tortured, blinded, castrated, massacred or just simply put to death.” It is easy to see why scholars would be discouraged from studying the period. Although we should not dismiss the difficulties associated with studying Iran’s eighteenth century, nor disregard the political, social, and economic troubles of the period, it seems fair to say that the field is overdue for new interpretations.



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Cambridge University Press (CUP)


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