DYNTRAN Symposium: Paris 2018

Symposium of the DYNTRAN Project (ANR-DFG):
“Dynamics of Transmission: Families, Authority and Knowledge in the Early Modern Middle East (15th-17th centuries)”

Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle – Paris 3,
Maison de la Recherche, 4 rue des Irlandais, 75005 Paris
7-9 March 2018

Family history has become one of the most stimulating fields in Middle Eastern studies in the last two decades. For three years (2015-2018) the French-German project Dynamics of Transmission: Families, Authority and Knowledge in the Early Modern Middle East, 15th-17th centuries (DYNTRAN, ANR-DFG FRAL-14-0009-01) has been inscribing itself into this recent tradition. The project applies the overarching concept of transmission to family history and sets out to locate various dynamics of transmitting authority and knowledge inside family structures. By initiating an interdisciplinary dialogue between history, textual studies, and art history, and by bringing together Mamluk, Ottoman, Persian, and Central Asian area studies, the project seeks to identify family and family-like transmission networks on the macro-scale of the Muslim Middle-East. Further, it aims not only at analysing the objects and the frameworks of transmission, but also at examining the means, practices and strategies essential to this process within their historical context. Finally, the project is interested in investigating the adaptation and development of lineages striving to assure their permanence through time and space, postulating the family as both actor and place of transmission, as well as generational and geographical connector.

The first DYNTRAN workshop, held in Marburg in November 2015, was devoted to sources. It showed the rich potential of a scientific encounter between specialists of the Arabic and Ottoman world, on the one side, and the Persian world on the other; this interaction is an objective at the core of the DYNTRAN project. Since that initial workshop, two subsequent meetings were held—one in Cairo in November 2016, and the other in Naples in April 2017—, as well as several pre-organized panels in international symposiums and congresses (programs on www.dyntran.hypotheses.org). The previous DYNTRAN workshops have focused on the sources, methodologies, as well as on the mechanisms and modalities which facilitated the transmission of knowledge through family structures. Particular attention was paid to themes such as:strategies of transmission of authority and/or knowledge; the forms of authority in social context; the role of “family-type” networks as carries of knowledge and authority.

At this stage of our research, it is important to move away from an emphasis on families as transmitters, in order to focus more on other existing networks, such as institutions (for example madrasas, ateliers) or professional and spiritual links (master-disciple relationships), or on factors such as geographical mobility of individuals. This approach not only would enable the research to concentrate on the question of how transmission occurred but also to investigate its circumstances. The shift away from the family as the central mechanism of transmission creates a necessity for a reevaluation and exploration of existing and new sources. The geographical factor—an important element of studying channels of transmission—is related to the activity of ‘professional’ networks (scholars, administrators, militaries, merchants, craftsmen and others), as well as to distant families bringing about questions of actual practices of transmission over great geographical distances rather than over long periods of time in one site. On the other hand, placing a corpus of works in one madrasa and endowing it to that location allowed transmission to occur over centuries because it was bound to a fixed geographical location.

DYNTRAN is also interested in identifying patterns pertaining to the actors, the process and the forms of transmission. Several related questions can be put forward for future consideration: how did people gain the resources for creating opportunities to participate in networks outside of the family group? How did people transmit identities over generations within and outside of family networks? Has the transmission always occurred through occupational identity, i.e. families of merchants, scholars or artisans, or could it also be constructed by associating with such a group? What about other forms of ‘family-type’ associational identification such as successoral dynastic or spiritual lines? What obligations or responsibilities did these people have towards their networks? Were these obligations perceived as individual or collective?

Finally, the question about the ways in which cross-cultural transmission occurred is closely related to many of the preceding issues. This could have taken the form of trade, movement of books, or movement of peoples. The issue of transmitting across neighbouring cultural areas and movement within and between networks remains to be examined in more depth, especially as it directly touches the cultural and geographic spread of topics in the larger DYNTRAN framework. Exploring the movement between networks in Arabic, Persian and Turkic cultural, societal and political spheres could help to pinpoint patterns, characteristics and/or specificities of the areas under investigation.

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The following topics (not exhaustive) could particularly interest the DYNTRAN Final Symposium in Paris, along synchronic or diachronic lines of approach:

• Defining the family as historical object:

  • Source terminology for household and family in an intertwined linguistic and cultural context of the 15th-17th centuries;
  • Biological and social boundaries of family networks and households;
  • Identification and use of names in reference to lineages and/or families.

• Family identities and the transmission of their social and economical status and authority:

  • History of families (anthropological, historical, social, cultural viewpoints);
  • Strategies of legitimation and construction of their economic or social status (for example: marriage, alliances, professional activity, patronage, religion, politics, etc.);
  • Forms of how family solidarities were expressed;
  • Individual and family / Individual versus family.

• Channels of transmission of knowledge and skills (in social and historical context):

  •  Institutionalized transmission (madrasa, khanqah, court, workshop, etc.) versus unofficial transmission (family, master to disciple, etc.);
  • Written versus oral transmission; the use of the book;
  • Interactions between lineages, families or households;
  • Geographical and social mobility;
  • Professionalization and transmission of skills and knowledge in a family network.

• Reassessing sources for researching history of family in the early modern Middle East.

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Maria Szuppe, Christoph Werner, Albrecht Fuess and Nicolas Michel

Organizing team in Paris:
Sandra Aube,
Sacha Alsancakli and Emmanuel Giraudet
(CNRS, UMR7528 “Mondes iranien et indien”, 27 rue Paul-Bert, F-94204 Ivry-sur-Seine. France)
with the cooperation of Anthony T. Quickel (in Cairo, IFAO) and Alberto Tiburcio (in Marburg, Philipps-Universität)


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