Signs Taken for Wonder: Nineteenth Century Persian Travel Literature to Europe

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


My dissertation, Signs taken for Wonder: Nineteenth Century Persian Travel Literature to Europe is a re-examination of the significance of Persian travel narratives to Europe for Qajar Iran (1796–1925). Through textual and contextual analysis of Qajar travel accounts to Europe, I have demonstrated the ways in which Qajar historiography's focus on travelogues as sites of Europe is a result of an anticipatory history that reads the nineteenth century in light of later developments that the historical actors themselves could not have foreseen. This has led to the omission of certain nineteenth century travelogues from the historiography and also blinded historians to other interpretive possibilities of these texts, specifically the ways in which they narrate Qajar Imperial power, reveal changes in the writing culture of Iran in the nineteenth century, and demonstrate the state's growing interest in geographical knowledge.

By shifting my analytical framework from “what” was written to “why” these travelogues were written, and more importantly, how they were consumed, I argue for an interpretation of travel literature to Europe as narrators of the power of the Qajar court, and later in the century, that of Iran's territorial integrity. Additionally, by contextualizing the travelogues within the larger body of geographical and historical writings of their own period, I demonstrate the ways in which these texts interacted with other types of narratives, such as chronicles, geographies, and the court's official gazette.

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