Project Presentation

DYNTRAN (Dynamics of Transmission: Families, Authority and Knowledge in the Early Modern Middle East, 15th-17th Centuries) is a three year bi-national project (2015-2018). It aims to bring together the distinctive traditions of the French and German schools in the field: the historically oriented Islamic studies in Germany vis-à-vis the multi-disciplinary field of historians, art historians, and religious studies experts from France.

DYNTRAN interests and scope

Family history has become one of the most stimulating fields in Middle Eastern studies in the last two decades. The present project inscribes itself into this recent tradition and proposes to advance its agenda in several directions.

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First, it moves into the early modern period, covering a time frame from the 15th to the 17th century where the historical role of families remains understudied and continues to be very regionally or socially focused.

Secondly, it sets out to bridge the increasing gap that exists in scholarship on the Middle East between the Persianate world and the Arab lands under Mamluk and early Ottoman rule. Geographical mobility and contact areas thus deserve our special attention.

Finally, it applies the overarching concept of transmission to family history and sets out to locate dynamics of transmitting authority and knowledge inside family structures, both synchronic and diachronic. What is actually passed on can be of a very diverse nature: it might be mystical knowledge and spiritual authority, it might be military know-how and prowess inside amir families, or it might take the shape of political or administrative power inside constructed families or kin groups. Equally, we have to think of scribal, literary and artistic traditions which are transmitted within families of scholars and savants. They can be traced along real objects and be considered as symbolic and real manifestations of legitimacy, status, and power.

zone_dyntran-01Processes of transmission, thus our hypothesis, are shaped by dynamics internal and external to them. Internal with regard to the actual composition of families, external with regard to geographical, temporal and cultural factors such as tribal formations, territorial alignments, economical resources, as well as religious or ideological change. A wide range of sources is at our disposal, including archival material as well as biographical dictionaries, historical narratives and material artifacts. As we try to define the idea of “family” and the protagonists behind it, we aim to provide a better understanding of the role of families and kinship groups in Islamicate cultures before the advent of modernity.


The project will analyze the transmission of knowledge, especially along networks conceptualized in terms of « families ». Special attention will be given to the nature and conceptualization of knowledge and authority and the limits and functions of such “family-type” networks.

Since the opening of the project in June 2015, the following issues have already received a particular attention:

  • Strategies of transmission
  • Forms of authority in social context
  • The role of “family-type” networks as carriers of knowledge and authority

For the work-in-progress, see the first publications and the DYNTRAN Working Papers

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