From empire to the land of the lion and sun : British traveler writers in Qajar Persia

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2019-01-28
Authors
Torabian, Mehdi
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Abstract

This dissertation examines nineteenth-century English travel writers in Persia who wrote book-length accounts of their experiences in that country. It will specifically focus on three travel writers who were particularly influential in drawing the contours of a dominant discourse on the country and its people. These travel writers, who wrote important works on Persia in addition to travelogues, adopted strategies of representation that have continued up to the present to dominate the Western discourse on the country. Although Persia had since antiquity occupied a significant place in Western imagination, it was not until late eighteenth century when Europeans began to produce formal studies of the Eastern nation’s history, language, and culture. The three chapters of this study explore in their historical context the contribution that certain travel narratives made, through their textualization of real-world encounters, to the shifts that were occurring in imperial discourse between a discourse of othering and one of knowing. If Said’s Orientalism has significantly contributed to the understanding of how the West has produced knowledge of the East, the tenets of his theory have nonetheless gone through dramatic revisions in various critical camps. This study will not set out to add to the body of criticism on Said’s work by contesting his ideas directly. Instead, its primary aim is, among other things, to present a timely consideration of some key British travelers — Sir John Malcolm, James Morier, George Nathaniel Curzon — to Persia during a period when British influence, as well as academic and aesthetic interest in the land and its people, escalated in an unprecedented way. This study does not promote the notion that it was possible for certain English travelers to avoid Orientalist stereotypes or open up the proposition that cross-cultural encounter did in certain instances result in enhanced understanding of the Persian culture. Rather, by positioning the travel narratives in the historical and political context of their production, this dissertation will present a more complex picture of strategies of representation at work in these texts.

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