Fall 2016 MENAS Colloquium Series
Richard M. Eaton, Professor of History
The writing of India's late medieval early modern history has been bedeviled by an excessive focus on religion, in particular, Hindu-Muslim conflict. It is as though the past thousand years of South Asian history has been written backwards, with the whole of it a serving merely as a prolonged and bloody prelude to the bitter Partition of 1947, which divided the subcontinent into an explicitly Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu Republic of India. This talk proposes a new way of viewing the period 1000-1800, commonly mis-labled the subcontinent’s “Muslim era.” In particular, it proposes to analyze, compare, and contrast the socio-cultural worlds produced by two trans-regional literary traditions, Persian and Sanskrit, suggesting that the idea of the “cosmopolis” is a far more useful category precolonial history than is the threadbare, flawed and more limiting one of religion.
After graduating from the College of Wooster in 1962, I lived in Tabriz for two years as a member of the first group of American Peace Corps volunteers to Iran. While there I made an overland trip through India and Pakistan and became fascinated by the historical connections between South Asia and the Iranian plateau, between Islam and Indian religions, and between Persianate and Indic civilizations from roughly 1000 to 1800. My published monographs include SUFIS OF BIJAPUR: SOCIAL ROLES OF SUFIS IN MEDIEVAL INDIA (Princeton, 1978); THE RISE OF ISLAM AND THE BENGAL FRONTIER, 1204 1760 (California, 1993); SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE DECCAN, 1300 1761: EIGHT INDIAN LIVES (Cambridge, 2005); and POWER, MEMORY, ARCHITECTURE: CONTESTED SITES ON INDIA'S DECCAN PLATEAU, 1300-1600 (Oxford, 2014). These four historical monographs employ as analytical frameworks, respectively, Weberian social thought, Annales School methodology, biography, and architecture.