[lg policy] book notice: Literacy in the Persianate World: Writing and the Social Order,

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 4 16:08:28 UTC 2012

I am happy to announce the publication of
Literacy in the Persianate World:
Writing and the Social Order,
edited by Brian Spooner and William L. Hanaway,
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

Persian has been a written language since the sixth century B.C. Only
Chinese, Greek, and Latin have comparable histories of literacy. Although
the Persian script changed, first from cuneiform to a modified Aramaic,
then to Arabic, from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries it served a
broader geographical area than any language in world history. It was the
primary language of administration and belles lettres from the Balkans
under the earlier Ottoman Empire to Central China under the Mongols, and
from the northern branches of the Silk Road in Central Asia to southern
India under the Mughal Empire. Its history is therefore crucial for
understanding the function of writing in world history.

Each of the chapters opens a window onto a particular stage of this
history, starting from the reemergence of Persian in the Arabic script
after the Arab-Islamic conquest in the seventh century A.D., through the
establishment of its administrative vocabulary, its literary tradition, its
expansion as the language of trade in the thirteenth century, and its
adoption by the British imperial administration in India, before being
reduced to the modern role of national language in three countries
(Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan) in the twentieth century. Two
concluding chapters compare the history of written Persian with the
parallel histories of Chinese and Latin, with special attention to the way
its use was restricted and channeled by social practice.

This is the first comparative study of the historical role of writing in
three languages, including two in non-Roman scripts, over a period of two
and a half millennia, providing an opportunity for reassessment of the work
on literacy in English that has accumulated over the past half century. The
editors take full advantage of this opportunity in their introductory essay.

The first 33 pages may be viewed on Google Books at

Brian Spooner
>> Professor of Anthropology
>> Museum Curator for Near East Ethnology
>> Interim Co-Director, Lauder Institute of Management and International
>> Studies,
>> Chair, Graduate Group in International Studies
>> Penn Museum, room 508
>> 3260 South Street
>> University of Pennsylvania
>> spooner at sas.upenn.edu
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