Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2018

Judith Pfeiffer

Alexander von Humboldt-Professor for Islamic Studies, University of Bonn

Rashīd al-Dīn’s Craft: Narrating Parallel Pasts in the Fourteenth Century

Rashīd al‑Dīn (d. 718/1318) has been hailed repeatedly as ‘the first world historian,’ given that his historiographical oeuvre, the Jāmiʿ al‑tavārīkh or Compendium of Histories, purports to present the histories (tavārīkh) of many if not all of the peoples inhabiting the Eurasian landmass known in his time. The term ‘world history’ (or ‘world historiography’) implies that a comprehension of the whole in a single narrative is possible or at least intended, and is therefore of limited utility to examine such sophisticated approaches to the past as Rashīd al‑Dīn’s who enacted the notion of parallel pasts of contemporary peoples in his historiographical oeuvre. This contribution introduces the notion of ‘parallel histories’ to account for Rashīd al‑Dīn’s method.

Judith Pfeiffer’s research focuses on the social, political, and intellectual history of the Nile to Oxus region with a particular emphasis on Iran, Central Asia, and Anatolia during the Later Middle and Early Modern periods of Islamic history. She has a special interest in the ways in which political and confessional boundaries were re-negotiated and re-defined during the post-Mongol period. Her publications include History and Historiography of Post-Mongol Central Asia and the Middle East (2006, co-edited with Sholeh Quinn) and Politics, Patronage and the Transmission of Knowledge in 13th-15th Century Tabriz (2013). After receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2003, she taught courses on Islamic studies and Islamic history at the University of Oxford before being appointed Alexander von Humboldt Professor in Islamic Studies at the University of Bonn in 2016, where she currently directs the Alexander von Humboldt Kolleg on thirteenth to sixteenth century Islamicate intellectual history.