Accepted paper:

Layered Sovereignty in Eurasia's Age of City-States


James Pickett (University of Pittsburgh)

Paper abstract:

Nadir Shah Afshar's invasion of Central Asia in the mid-eighteenth century was a death knell for the already weakened empires of the steppe that preceded him. What followed was an era of fractured, competing polities throughout the region. The three khanates of Khoqand, Bukhara, and Khiva are the most well known, but this paper focuses on the lesser-known polity of Shahrisabz. This city-state was has long been a historical footnote, widely regarded as an unruly "province in rebellion" plaguing its more powerful overlords in Bukhara during the 17th through late 19th centuries. In fact, it was an autonomous city-state in its own right, and the mechanisms through which it has been written into submission in the historiography reveal much about historical methodology and premodern logics of sovereignty. To recover Shahrisabz's story, this study pursues a non-hegemonic reading of hegemonic Persian writing (a strategy more frequently employed against colonial sources), and pieces together scattered textual fragments composed in the city itself. In doing so, it illustrates the ways in which variegated forms of symbolic submission and coercive power intersected into complexes not easily mappable to modern binaries. Seemingly contradictory forms of sovereignty routinely coexisted within a single polity, and greater specificity is necessary to capture a kaleidoscope of permutations.

panel HIS-11
New Approaches to the History and Historiography of Central Asia from the 17th to the 19th Century