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Language in the Persianate World and defining the Cultural Centre and Periphery
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For much of the last millennium, Persian was a language of high culture, literary production, and administration across much of Asia. The Persian language and its literary culture connected a vast territory in pre-modern Asia. Most people who used literary Persian were not native speakers in our modern understanding, yet they had a strong sense of belonging to a cultural unit larger than any political entity. It was primarily nationalism imported from Europe, with its emphasis on language as a building block of a nation-state, that changed the equation. Before that transformation had occurred, eighteenth-century Indian Persian users wondered about Persian’s historical centre and how that geography related to where Persian was used in their time. This attempt to understand the cultural formation of the Persianate World historically–even though it was based on what from our perspective were incorrect assumptions–can lead us to broader questions about how any cultural form circulates. Cosmopolitan culture has often been understood through a contradiction, namely that it is both universal and belonging to a particular place. How did this work in practice in the pre-modern Persianate World?
Arthur Dudney received a PhD in Middle Eastern, South Asian & African Studies from Columbia University and an AB in Classics from Princeton University. He is the author of Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History and a forthcoming monograph from Oxford University Press. He is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. He is the Cultural Grants Manager at the Arcadia Fund and an affiliated researcher at the University of Cambridge. He was formerly a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge, and a Mellon Fellow at the University of Oxford.