The fabric of the early modern city : mass production of silk and local architectural patronage in Kashan, Iran, mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries




Sayadi, Nader

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Much of the urban population in the late medieval and early modern Islamic world drew their livelihood from industry. In the city of Kashan in central Iran, a group of silk weaving (shaʿrbafi) workshops survives as a remnant of the city’s history of crafts. These ordinary buildings — regarded as vernacular architecture — have been the subject of studies in historic preservation and architectural engineering. Nevertheless, the history of these buildings and their relation to Kashan remains understudied. This research situates these workshops in their socio-economic context in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by applying a variety of sources and methodologies, including architectural and structural analysis of the workshops, ethnographic investigation of the silk craft, local socio-political histories of notables, global economic histories of silk, and visual analysis of contemporary fashion. It argues that local elites of Kashan built these shaʿrbafi workshops in a short period of time to revive the mass production of silk fabrics as part of city-wide economic and urban development after a devastating earthquake in 1778/1192. Through the history of these workshops, this interdisciplinary study also seeks to contribute to a few ongoing discussions in the scholarship: first, it suggests a methodological approach to historical studies of mundane buildings in the Islamic world, which, unlike monumental architecture, have not often been fully represented in secondary sources. It also offers an alternative approach to interpret the city beyond the essentialist perspectives common in urban histories of the Islamic world. Second, this research focuses on the process of making objects, particularly textiles, and their production network as often overlooked topics in Islamic art and urban histories. Third, this study adds to recent scholarship that concentrates on the peripheries of the Islamic world by examining the local socio-economic dynamics of provinces rather than dynastic powers in capital cities. Finally, it challenges master narratives arguing for the “short eighteenth century” in Iranian history scholarship, as well as Eurocentric interpretations of industrial cultures and mass production. The history of these workshops allows for a more nuanced interpretation of the material culture, urban development, and production of goods in the Islamic world.



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