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Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - Lawforms (Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries)

Reporting period: 2021-11-01 to 2022-04-30

This is a project on the everyday meanings and uses of law in a historic cultural zone, which extended from Bengal to Bosnia, in which Persian language was the lingua franca. The focus of research has been on Persian language and bi-lingual legal documents from India, Iran and the northern Indian Ocean. Using these documents, the project investigated ideas and practices of cosmopolitan living, expectations of law and justice, Islamic law in non-Muslim contexts, and multi-lingual practice, all of which are relevant to contemporary societies even now.
As PI, I am delighted with the achievements of the project, including full completion of all projected outputs, despite the very serious challenges posed by the global pandemic of Covid-19.
The project conducted very large amounts of research for all zones (1-5: Hindi-, Bengali-, Marathi- and Rajashtani- speaking, Iran, Indian Ocean ) within the project, leading to the creation of a substantial data repository. On a rough estimate, we collected 30,000 documents available for research, which formed a tremendous raw dataset.
Even when collecting the material, the project core team consisting of the PI, Co-Is and 2 PDRAs, developed a working methodology for analysing the complex material, through intensive and collaborative study of samples and short series by project team members, both within the team and in association with external collaborators of the project. Structural and semantic analysis of the texts (which was part of the Digital Humanities aspect of the project) have greatly enhanced the project’s understanding of the material and helped us to formulate systematic provisional conclusions.
We made several specific discoveries, of which a sample are: the pervasive presence of Persian and Persianate styles and lexicons in the purportedly indigenist Maratha empire in India (zone 3a); connections between legal documentation and registration in the Rajasthani states (zone 3b); pseudo-Sanskritic formulae in otherwise Persianate legal documents from Bengal (zone 1); the role of letters in commercial record-keeping (zone 5) and the use of legal fictions in transactional documents in Qajar Iran (zone 4). Overall, we discovered that Persian language combined in very specific ways with local languages, that these language combinations were related to highly developed institutional, demographic and political arrangements, and that when people thought of law in these areas, they thought of that specific combination, which cannot be reduced to any pure types, whether of Irano-Persian language or Arabo-Islamic law.
The project constantly worked to engage with externals scholars and scholarly teams, and presented worked in several conferences, of which some key ones were the first residential workshop, held in July 2018 at Exeter, was a significant step in building a broader circle of collaborators, which led to the shaping of the first collaborative publication on legal documents and economic practices in the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 64: 5-6 (2021). See webpage.
In addition, a Persian manuscript reading workshop at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Pakistan; A conference on Rajasthani and Persian manuscripts and document forms was held in Bikaner, India, in February 2019, in association with the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner; Lawforms team members presented papers at several conferences, including Ravenna, June 2018, IAHA, Leiden, July 2019; Madison, USA, October 2019. Our dissemination activities continued online during the Covid pandemic, including a very successful conference on ‘Paper Empires’, looking at non-European language bureaucracy across multiple empires.
This led to our second collective publication, in the Law and History Review; the first view articles are appeared in October 2022 and are ongoing.

PI Nandini Chatterjee’s monograph, Negotiating Mughal Law, published by Cambridge University Press in 2020, won the Philip Gonville Stein book award from the American Society of Legal History.
Several other publications emerged from the project, including:
Article by PI Nandini Chatterjee, 'Sharīʿa translated? Persian documents in English courts, in Mahmood Kooriadathodi and Sanne Ravensbergen (eds) Islamic Law in the Indian Ocean World: Texts, Ideas, Practices (London: Routledge, 2021).
Article by PI Nandini Chatterjee, 'Kayasths in Rajput land: Family lore in a dynasty of qānungō-zamindars in early modern Malwa’' in Rosalind O'Hanlon ed. Special Issue of Indian Economic and Social History Review, on 'Service people in motion: culture, power and the politics of mobility in India's long eighteenth century'. Submitted to editors. This will be placed on Green open access after publication and subject to the necessary embargo.
Article by Co I Christoph Werner: “Die ‘Privaturkunde'’im persisch-islamischen Kultur-und Rechtsbereich. Herausforderungen einer komparatistischen Diplomatik,” in Andrea Stieldorf
(ed.) Die Urkunde: Text - Bild - Objekt (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019), pp. 141-60. See here.

Special issue on ‘Transactions and Documentation in the Persianate World,’ to be submitted to the Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient in 2020 (This includes 10 articles by all team members and 5 other collaborators.)
One enormously important and successful aspect of the project was the website that presented c. 70 fully typed, translated and encoded documents, together with explanatory materials contributing to teaching. This website, and the focus groups around it, led to the creation of relationships with family history groups and other senior historians, who contributed materials to the project. https://lawforms.exeter.ac.uk/index.html
We also maintained a very active research blog: https://lawforms.hypotheses.org
The most unconventional approach in this project has been the study of Islamic law in several non-Muslim majority contexts, and using techniques developed in the study of European diplomatics, which have been very infrequently been applied to the study of Islamic material, and never to the study of Indic material. This approach has required the use of quantitative approaches suitable for handling relatively large volumes of data, using Excel spreadsheets, while also undertaking fine-grained qualitative analysis, for which text encoding, using TEI-XML has been most effective.
Besides the traditional academic outputs, we made significant contributions to digital humanities work on non-Latin script languages, and potentially initiating collaboration with computer scientists.
A legal document from Rajasthan, India, 1934