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A Persian Captive’s Guide to Khiva: Esmāʿil Mir-Panja’s Satirical Recollections

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Travel literature flourished in the Qajar period, as reports rich in political, geographical, and ethnographic detail were officially commissioned from Iranian diplomats and officers who went abroad. Many of these accounts concerned Central Asia and some historians have argued that they served to project Iranian dominance over the region. Others have argued quite the opposite: that these accounts served to articulate cultural and political borders between Central Asia and Iran. In this paper, I will introduce a new source and an alternative approach. Focusing on the little-known travelogue of Esmāʿil Mir-Panja, an Iranian officer who spent ten years as a captive in Khiva, I will show not only how this travelogue served the interests of the Qajar state, but also how it functioned as a subversive work of satire and an incisive critique of the shah to whom it was dedicated. In other words, I will emphasize the agency of the author as well as the aims of his patrons.

Affiliations: 1: Harvard University


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