Research team

Power in History - Centre for Political History

Expertise

My area of expertise focuses the history of premodern Islamic world. More particularly, my research deals with the history of the contacts between Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran during the 13th-16th centuries. I study how and why those exchanges took place, and on which basis. I base my research on Arabic sources (from the Mamluk period), as well as Persian sources (post-Mongol period). I now also extend this study to both the Western and Eastern part of the Islamic world, to include the Maghreb and India. Another part of my research also focuses on issue of religious patronage in the Hijaz (holy cities of Islam) during the reign of the Mamluk sultanate.

(In)formal Diplomatic Networks and State Legitimation in the Premodern Islamic World: Mahmud Gawan (Bahmani vizier, 1463-1481) and the International Society. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

While it has long been recognized that the premodern Islamic world (until ca.1500) following the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate (1258) was knitted together through trade networks, cultural connections, and a shared religion, political fragmentation still prevails in most scholarly narratives. The project here proposed postulates that there were also common political practices, allowing for an "international society" to emerge, most visible in its practice of diplomacy. In this, the project builds on recent work in political and new diplomatic history that has moved away from focuses on conquest and the head of state, in favour of an interest in state formation, legitimacy and the role of a wider set of political/diplomatic agents. Though it is well-known that patronage of certain individuals was a common tactic of the court to enhance its prestige and claims to power in processes of state formation, it has so far been understudied how the networks of these personae could actively serve in a state's search for legitimacy. This project thus investigates the interlinkage of diplomacy, legitimacy and (in)formal networks in the premodern Islamic world. Concretely, it does so through the analysis of the diplomatic letters in Persian and Arabic of the vizier Mahmud Gawan (r. 1463-1481), a premodern example of the networking politician, and how they served in attempts to advance diplomatically the Bahmani Sultanate's (Deccan, South Asia) legitimacy claims.

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Research team(s)

"Tell me about your East". Noble European travel narratives and the representation of the Islamic World in the late Middle Ages. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2023

Abstract

Lands of marvels and wonders, lands of spices and treasures, the East has always fascinated medieval minds. The accounts left by Marco Polo or other Western travelers have greatly contributed to those Eastern constructions and myths. But along this fascination, the East also often appeared as threatening: it is the land of Islam, the land of the enemy. A binary vision of the Other — religious or barbaric other — was thus the result. The milieu of clerics and intellectuals has always been given a prime role in the medieval othering process of Islam, yet this to the detriment of other groups. Indeed, many people, usually travelers, have also described their own experience and encounters with the East; contributing in this way to the understanding of West-East/Christian-Muslim relations. If antagonistic representations remain important in these narratives, other elements also appear. The development and construction of these representations is however not properly studied yet. It is therefore important to add these travel accounts — and the tradition to which they belong— to the more theoretical consideration of intellectuals and clerics. Among these travelers, the case of the late medieval nobility is particularly interesting. Indeed, those men, who were close to the power, have produced a whole range of literature informing us of their travels to the East and encounters with Islam. Because of their leading role in society — not in the least their military identity and their involvement in new crusading ideas — their narratives may have had a deeper impact on the way that Europe came to terms with the Islamic Other. The project proposes to investigate travel accounts by late medieval nobles in three distinct political constellations, and to analyze their potential impact on later developments of European discourse on Islam.

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Research team(s)

(In)formal Diplomatic Networks and State Legitimation in the Premodern Islamic World: Mahmud Gawan (Bahmani vizier, 1463-1481) and the International Society. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

While it has long been recognized that the premodern Islamic world (until ca.1500) following the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate (1258) was knitted together through trade networks, cultural connections, and a shared religion, political fragmentation still prevails in most scholarly narratives. The project here proposed postulates that there were also common political practices, allowing for an "international society" to emerge, most visible in its practice of diplomacy. In this, the project builds on recent work in political and new diplomatic history that has moved away from focuses on conquest and the head of state, in favour of an interest in state formation, legitimacy and the role of a wider set of political/diplomatic agents. Though it is well-known that patronage of certain individuals was a common tactic of the court to enhance its prestige and claims to power in processes of state formation, it has so far been understudied how the networks of these personae could actively serve in a state's search for legitimacy. This project thus investigates the interlinkage of diplomacy, legitimacy and (in)formal networks in the premodern Islamic world. Concretely, it does so through the analysis of the diplomatic letters in Persian and Arabic of the vizier Mahmud Gawan (r. 1463-1481), a premodern example of the networking politician, and how they served in attempts to advance diplomatically the Bahmani Sultanate's (Deccan, South Asia) legitimacy claims.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Peaceful Encounters in Premodern Islam. Theory and Practice of Diplomacy under the Mamluk Sultanate (1250–1517). 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Long before the modern United Nations, rulers from all over the world established efficient means to communicate and interact: the exchanges of messengers. What were the reasons for sending messengers? On which basis did rulers interact and how? Which patterns ruled such exchanges? Against the common assumption of an "ancient" world dominated by wars and conquest, the present project aims to show how an international society emerged in the premodern Islamic world, one dominated by mutual recognition among rulers seeking to keep the peace and maintain privilege. Diplomacy, rather than war, became the norm and was facilitated by the development of a complex and dynamic set of rules recognized and understood by all participants. In order to understand this intriguing machinery, the project takes as starting point the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt and Syria (1250-1517)—a major actor in the premodern Islamic history—and scrutinizes the political, legal, administrative, and symbolic basis that ruled the patterns of diplomatic exchanges between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds, on the one hand, and within the Muslim world itself, on the other. Based on original and unpublished material, the project will produce the first comprehensive narrative of diplomatic history in the premodern Islamic world.

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Research team(s)

Peaceful Encounters in premodern Islam. Theory and Practice of Diplomacy under the Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517). 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Against the common assumption of an "ancient" world dominated by wars and conquest, the project investigates how an international society emerged in the premodern Islamic world, one dominated by mutual recognition among rulers seeking to keep the peace and maintain privilege. Diplomacy, rather than war, became the norm and was facilitated by the development of a complex and dynamic set of rules recognized and understood by all participants.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Keeping the Peace in Premodern Islam. Theory and Practice of Diplomacy under the Mamluk Sultanate (1250–1517) 01/02/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

Against the common assumption of an "ancient" world dominated by wars and conquest, the project investigates how an international society emerged in the premodern Islamic world, one dominated by mutual recognition among rulers seeking to keep the peace and maintain privilege. Diplomacy, rather than war, became the norm and was facilitated by the development of a complex and dynamic set of rules recognized and understood by all participants.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)