This blog reports the activities, findings and publications of the project “Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries,” which ran 2017-2022.  The project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 714569).

The project aims to study law and legal documentation in the Persian-writing world, which once extended from Bengal to Bosnia. Within this multi-lingual world, where the status and usage of Persian transcended ethnic boundaries, but also interacted creatively with several other languages, the project will follow the trail of a specific kind of artefact: Persian-language or bi-lingual legal documents. The project will study such documents from five major linguistic-cultural zones stretching from the Indian subcontinent to Iran and the northern and western Indian Ocean.

We will study their vocabularies, their scripts, their graphic elements (such as seals and symbols) and by doing all this, we will try to understand how and why people used such linguistically complex forms to record and assert their entitlements. Our focus is on the ordinary users of law, rather than on specialists. By this we mean that while we will look at the writings of jurists, and through them remain aware of the wider world of Islamic jurisprudence and documentation, our aim is to understand what protagonists like the petty Bengali landlord, the Gujarati merchant and the bazaar scribe thought about recognisable entitlements, obligations and transactions, and how to record them.

We will also study how, in different ways for different parts of the world covered by this project, the encroachment of European power, and in some cases, political control, inflected such writing and recording practices, and try to understand what that meant about changes in ideas about the law.

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