Event details

Changing frameworks of transmission. The circulation of Arabic grammar treatises across the Western Indian Ocean region, 1400-1700

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Public research seminar


Christopher Bahl (London)


Thursday, December 08, 2016, 6:30-8pm





Recent scholarship on the early modern Indian Ocean (1400-1700) has demonstrated the potential to write social and cultural histories that go beyond commercial activities, trade and pilgrimage. The circulation of Arabic Islamicate manuscripts created a historically contingent cultural zone that connected regions of South Asia with the wider Western Indian Ocean world. Empirical evidence from a variety of sources suggests that one particularly prominent trajectory gained importance from the beginning of the 15th century. It is the route from Egypt across the Hijaz and Yemen to the Sea ports of Gujarat and further on into the Deccan. This connection became crucial for the circulation of, among others, Arabic Islamicate texts from the West to the East.

In this paper, I will look at the succession of nodal points from the Red Sea region to Western India as a network that was established during the 15th century as a commonly used transoceanic connection for the movement of merchants, scholars and so forth, in order to trace different histories of circulation over the subsequent centuries from the field of the philological disciplines, in particular Arabic grammar books. I will argue that paratextual elements on these manuscripts can provide a microhistorical perspective to analyse changing frameworks of textual transmission, foreshadowing larger transformations in the fields of cultural exchange and learned encounters across the early modern Western Indian Ocean region.



Short biography


Christopher D. Bahl is a PhD student in the History Department of SOAS, University of London. In his research he studies the transmission of Arabic Islamicate texts across the Western Indian Ocean (1400-1700). In particular, he is interested in cultural practices and literary tastes of Arabicised communities and cultural exchanges between the Red Sea region and South Asia. His project forms part of a wider interest in the late medieval and early modern social and cultural histories, especially the manuscript cultures of the Western Indian Ocean.