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Witnesses and Agents of Empire:Eighteenth-Century Historiography and the World of the Mughal Munshī

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This paper addresses the evolving profile of the class of scribes or munshīs who emerged during the phase of consolidation of Mughal rule in northern India, as Mughal power waned in the course of the eighteenth century. It argues that while the social and political base of this class was expanded by opportunities provided by the empire, these munshīs in turn sought to develop their own understanding of events both past and present. In the late seventeenth century, they began to generate their own templates of history writing together with other forms of belles-lettres. In the first half of the eighteenth century, their power seemed to be on the increase as many made the transition to becoming significant political actors themselves. However, they were unable to consolidate their position in the latter decades of the century, when they emerged instead as critics of the new forms that Mughal power was taking. The essay is based on a reading of texts produced by a number of these authors, largely in Persian.

Cet essai s’adresse au problème de l’évolution de la classe des scribes ou des munshīs qui avaient émergé pendant la phase de la consolidation du règne des Moghols en Inde du Nord, avec l’affaiblissement de la puissance de l’empire au cours du dix-huitième siècle. La base sociale et politique de cette classe était augmentée par des occasions fournies par l’empire, et en revanche les munshīs ont cherché à fournir leur propre interprétation des événements du passé et du présent. Vers la fin du dix-septième siècle, ils ont commencé à produire leurs propres cadres pour l’écriture d’histoire ainsi que d’autres formes de belles-lettres. Dans la première moitié du dix-huitième siècle, leur puissance semblait être en augmentation et un certain nombre d’entre eux a fait la transition entre simples témoins et acteurs politiques significatifs. Cependant, c’était une situation qu’ils ne pouvaient pas consolider dans les dernières décennies du siècle, où ils ont émergé comme critiques des nouvelles formes que la puissance des Moghols prenait. L’essai est basé sur une lecture des textes produits par un certain nombre de ces auteurs, en grande partie en persan.


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