Being Urban and Urbane in Safavid Iran

Episode 458

In the seventeenth century, the city of Isfahan flourished as the capital of the Safavid Empire. How did this vibrant and growing city shape the very nature of its inhabitants? In this episode, we speak to Kathryn Babayan about how the city’s residents learned to read its new architecture and social life and how this budding urbanity in turn developed new ways of being and belonging among its residents. She focuses specifically on anthologies, those personal collections of letters, paintings, and poems that survive today by the thousands. These anthologies, curated and preserved by urbanites over generations, are one of the finest testaments to the new subjectivities of the early modern city in the Safavid realms.

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Contributor Bios

Kathryn Babayan's research focuses on the social and cultural history of the early-modern Persianate world. She specializes in Safavi history, the history of Shi'ism, gender studies and the history of sexuality. Her forthcoming book with Stanford University Press is titled The City as Anthology: Eroticism and Urbanity in Early Modern Isfahan.
Nir Shafir researches the intellectual and religious history of the Middle East, from roughly 1400-1800, focusing on material culture and the history of science and technology. He is an assistant professor of history at UCSD.


Episode No. 458
Release Date: 8 April 2020
Recording Location: Budapest
Audio editing by Chris Gratien
Music: Blue Dot Sessions - Fifteen Street
Images and bibliography courtesy of Kathryn Babayan and Nir Shafir


Shaykh Lutfullah Mosque
Maydan-i Naqsh-i Jahan taken from the Friday Prayer Mosque

Drawing of a girl reading, folio from a Persian album, c. 1570, Iran. Museum of Fine Arts, 14.593

Select Bibliography

Sebouh Aslanian, From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Network of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa (Berkeley: California University Press, 2011).

Sussan Babaie, Isfahan and its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2008).

Sussan Babaie et al., Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavi Iran. (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004).

Kathryn Babayan, “In Spirit We Ate of Each Other’s Sorrow:” Female Companionship in Seventeenth Century Safavi Iran, Islamicate Sexualities: Translations Across Temporal Geographies of Desire, eds. Babayan & Najmabadi (Cambridge: Harvard Middle Eastern Monographs, 2008)

Stephen Blake, Half the World: The Social Architecture of Safavid Isfahan 1590-1722 (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1999)

Massumeh Farhad, “Safavid Single-Page Paintings, 1629-1666” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1987). “The Art of Muʿin Musavvir: A Mirror of his Times.” In Persian Masters: Five Centuries of Persian Painting, ed. Sheila R. Canby (Bombay: Marg Publications, 1990), 113-128.

Gulru Necipoglu-Kafadar, “The Scrutinizing Gaze in the Aesthetics of Islamic Visual Cultures: Sight, Insight and Desire,” Muqarnas 32 (2015), 23-61, guest edited by Olga Busch and Avinoam Shalem, Proceedings of their Conference: “Gaze Otherwise: Modalities of Seeing,” held at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz-Max Planck-Institut in October 2012.

Haneda, Masashi. “The Character of the Urbanization of Isfahan in the Later Safavid Period.” in Safavid Persia: The History and Politics of an Islamic Society. Ed. Charles Melville, Pembroke Persian Papers, 4 (London: I. B. Tauris, in association with the Centre of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge, 1996), 369-388.

Rudolph Matthee, The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver, 1600-1730 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).


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