At the start of the new year I prefer to honor the tradition of looking at the legal history of a classical Empire. In previous years you would find here in January first of all a post about Roman law. However, the new post on Roman law is not yet ready, but luckily another empire of law came into view. Lawforms – Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World is a new blog at the Hypotheses blog network. The blog reminds you of the large extension of the Persian empire in the Early Modern period, from Eastern Turkey to parts of Afghanistan, but the Persian language and literature had an impact far beyond such borders. In this short post I will look at this international project which runs from 2017 to 2022. The focus of the project will be on the Indian subcontinent.
The focus of the Lawforms project will be on Persian and bilingual legal documents and their users. The project distinguishes five linguistic zones. Among the subjects of interest is the impact of the European world on legal practices and the use of one or more languages. The three principal researchers in this project are Nandini Chatterjee (Exeter), Christoph Werner (Marburg) and Farah Bishara (University of Virginia), supported by two research associates in Delhi and Kolkata. The blog presents a number of field work reports, for example for regions with Bengali and Marathi, and for the Punjab. Other post tell us about work. In one case the director of the Rajasthan State Archives came to the South Asia section of the British Library to discuss the project and plans for digitization. I could not help spotting in this post the absence of the link to the website of this institution in Bikaner. The Directory of Archives created by The Memory Company leads you to a number of archives in India, Nepal and Pakistan. For India the list of archives at Wikipedia is very helpful.
On July 13-14, 2018 a workshop was held at Exeter on the theme of transactions and documentation in the Persianate world. The blog gives you the abstracts of contributions. One of the sessions in Exeter was devoted to Asnad, a database hosted by the Centrum für Nah- und Mittelost-Studien, Philipps-Universität, Marburg, until now a digital archive for Persian documents mainly from Iran held at several institutions. From 2019 onwards it will be extended to contain also images of documents from South and Central Asia.
Fragments and archives
The most recent contribution at Lawforms is a notice about a recent conversation in Charlottesville, VA, between Farad Bishara, the author of A Sea of Debt. Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780–1950 (Cambridge, etc., 2017), and Nandini Chatterjee. At the core of their conversation is the tension between views about legal consciousness and the sometimes arbitrary survival of records and documents in archival institutions. The levels to be researched cannot been seen in a fixed constellation with for instance legal manuals, dictionaries – see the post on a Persian/Bengali dictionary from 1838 by A.B.M. Shamshuddoza – and legal documents. The notice ends with some remarks on the way public records can refer to privately held views and vice versa.
One of the reasons I tried here to look here albeit rather briefly at a project concerning the Middle East and South Asia is the presence at my website Rechtshistorie of a growing overview of archives worldwide, including also Asia. I will not dare to venture into the field of India’s legal history without mentioning here South Asian Legal History Resources, the blog of Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin). It is really a portal for anyone wanting to study India’s legal history. She can provide you also with a host of links to websites with tips and strategies for productivity. Let’s hope the quality and quantity of your research, writing or teaching can attain the right levels in 2019!