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Post-Doc at UCLA: The Frontiers of Persian Learning: Testing the Limits of a Eurasian Lingua Franca, 1600–1900

sponsored by

UCLA Center for 17th-& 18th-Century Studies
and the
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

Combined fellowship information can be found here:

Post-doctoral application forms can be accessed directly via this link:

Ahmanson-Getty Postdoctoral Fellowships

This theme-based resident fellowship program, established with the support of the Ahmanson Foundation of Los Angeles and the J. Paul Getty Trust, is designed to encourage the participation of junior scholars in the Center’s yearlong core programs.

The core program for year 2015–2016:

The Frontiers of Persian Learning: Testing the Limits of a Eurasian Lingua Franca, 1600–1900
Directed by Nile Green (UCLA)

As a lingua franca promoted by multi-ethnic and multi-religious states, and expanded further by education and commerce, by the eighteenth century Persian had reached the zenith of its geographical and social reach. Then, in the course of the nineteenth century, it was rapidly undermined by the rise of new imperial and vernacular languages. By 1900, a language that had connected much of Eurasia had shrunk to a core ‘homeland.’ This conference series aims to understand the reasons behind both the rapid expansion and contraction of Persian by identifying what functions the language was both able and unable to serve in an age of transformative Eurasian interactions. By identifying the geographical, social and epistemological ‘frontiers’ of Persian, these Clark conferences explore the limits of exchange, understanding and affection between the diverse communities brought into contact by Persian. Through a critical rather than celebratory approach drawn from the intersectio n of historical, sociolinguistic and literary analyses, the program aims to test the limits of Persian by identifying its geographical, social and epistemological fault lines.

Session 1: The Geographical Frontiers of Persian Learning
October 16, 2015

This first conference in the series tests the frontiers of Persian’s linguistic geography by reconstructing the mobility of Persian east into India, China and Southeast Asia and west into the Ottoman Empire and northern Europe. By following the journeys of texts and text-producers, the conference asks speakers to identify the limits – indeed, the breakage points – of Persian’s usefulness as a medium of affinity, understanding and interaction. Was Persian anchored to a geographically delimited region or was it capable of following the settler routes of its users worldwide like other global languages? Is it meaningful to conceive Persian as possessing language borders or did it function mainly in informational orders characterized by multilingualism and translation? What, if any, were the diminishing social or intellectual returns of its spatial expansion? Indeed, how should we spatialize Persian and conceive its relationship to different layers of place? What functions could Persian perform and not perform in these different contexts? At the same time as the conference maps the furthest expansion of Persian, it therefore serves as an exercise in tracing the constraints of the cosmopolitan.

Session 2: The Social Frontiers of Persian Learning
Feb. 5, 2015

While as one Eurasia’s great lingua francas, Persian has been rightly celebrated for its inclusiveness, bringing together Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and others into a single if disjointed ecumene. At the same time, it has widely been conceived as the ‘Islamicate’ language par excellence. Against this apparently cosmopolitan backdrop, this conference seeks to identify the social limits or breaking-points of Persian’s usage and usefulness. By asking whether in its connecting of different communities, Persian served more as a language of trade, governance or literature, we can assess the limits of the ‘cosmopolitanism’ that has been celebrated in recent scholarship. This approach raises a series of questions. Was the wide expansion of Persian enabled but ultimately disabled by its close but constraining ties to ruling states? How did the ‘Islamicate’ profile of Persian shape the frontiers of its republic (or empire) of letters? Were there forms of social interaction or organization with which Persian could not cope? At the same time as pointing to the bridge-building achievements of Persian, by addressing such questions the conference aims to assess the social fault lines to help explain why so successful a lingua franca could dissolve so rapidly in the nineteenth century.

Session 3: The Epistemological Frontiers of Persian Learning
April 9, 2016

While Persian has been rightly admired as a language of humanism, philosophy and science, we have little sense of its epistemological limitations. Yet the early modern period saw a rapid acceleration of intellectual and scientific exchange, in the case of Persian involving translations from both European and Asian languages. In this age of new ideas, the conference asks whether there were certain concepts or debates that Persian was unable to capture or communicate? Were these constraints due to external, socio-political factors, or did Persian’s linguistic profile and literary conventions impose on its users internal constraints? How constraining a factor was Persian’s reliance on manuscript transmission prior to the mid-nineteenth century (and, conversely, what was the impact on Persian of printed texts in European or vernacular languages)? What role was played by demands of creating a vocabulary for scientific discoveries and political innovations made in other cultura l and linguistic contexts? In these ways, the conference charts the epistemological barriers of Persian as it responded to new political and intellectual demands.

Scholars will need to have received their doctorates in the last six years, (no earlier than July 1, 2009 and no later than September 30, 2015). Scholars whose research pertains to the announced theme are eligible to apply. Fellows are expected to make a substantive contribution to the Center’s workshops and seminars. Awards are for three consecutive quarters in residence at the Clark. Stipend: $42,000 for the three-quarter period together with paid medical benefits for scholar and dependents.

Application deadline: 1 February, 2015.

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