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Dr Arthur D Dudney

History of early modern Persian literary education and lexicography beyond Iran especially in India

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

Research Fellow in Darwin College

Office Phone: 01223 335129


Columbia University

Ph.D. in Middle Eastern, South Asian & African Studies, and the Institute for Comparative Literature & Society (2013)

M.A. in South Asian Studies (2008)

Princeton University

A.B. in Classics (2005)

Subject groups/Research projects

Arabic & Persian Studies:

Research Interests

For much of the last millennium, Persian was a language of high culture, literary production, and administration across much of Asia. Though Persian was its common currency, this vast cultural zone was multilingual (and even within Iran a courtly standard Persian always coexisted with local dialects). My Leverhulme-funded project "Making Persianate People: Histories of Persian Literary Education Beyond Iran" will provide a long history of Persian-language literary education with the aim of better understanding the Persianate (that is, the Persian language-using) world. With a focus on pre-modern India, it uses largely untapped sources to offer new perspectives on the historical relationship of trans-regional cultural forms with local contexts.

As the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Early-Modern Indian Cultures of Knowledge at Oxford (2013-15), I used Persian lexicography as a source for intellectual and cultural history. This approach is still a key part of my new project. Dictionary-making was the site of a great deal of scholarly effort and contestation in early-modern South Asia. Dictionaries were encyclopaedic in scope and so can help us to answer fundamental questions about society and thought. My particular interest is making use of these little-studied texts to trace the development of concepts. The dictionary-writers were a remarkable group of intellectuals from different religious backgrounds who were often members of the elite corps of Mughal administration. They actively engaged with the question of how India fit into the Persianate world, but later scholarship has done them a disservice by typically reading these debates through anachronistic concerns about linguistic nationalism, which my work attempts to redress through reconsidering primary sources.

Both projects build upon my PhD thesis, which explores the thought and influence of Siraj al-Din ‘Ali Khan (d. 1756), known as Arzu. He was an Indian courtier who brought the study of literary language in Persian to its premodern apogee, and was also regarded as a pioneering educationalist and lexicographer. Literary criticism of the sort practised by Arzu and his circle was not a leisure-time activity but had for centuries been seen as crucial to political legitimacy. My work has demonstrated his importance in Persian stylistic debates as well as his foundational role in Urdu literature, which is widely acknowledged but has not been analysed holistically in light of his Persian literary theory.

Other Professional Activities

  • British Library lecture on “Persian Grammar Books as a Get Rich Quick Scheme in Colonial Calcutta,” 18 September 2017 [podcast]
  • Interview on the Provocateur podcast on “Languages of Everywhere and Nowhere: Persian as Premodern Lingua Franca”
  • Royal Asiatic Society lecture on “The Literature of Decline Under the Late Mughals,” 14 February 2017 [podcast]
  • Interviewed in New Books in South Asian Studies series about Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History, January 2016 [podcast]

Key Publications

  • Article “Going Native: Iranian Émigré Poets and Indic Languages” in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (37.3, 2017)
  • Article “Metaphorical Language as a Battleground for Tradition and Newness in Late Mughal Persian” in the International Journal of Persian Literature (2, 2017)
  • Article “Khān-e Ārzu’s Middle Way for Poetic Authority in Eighteenth-Century Indo-Persian” in the Journal of Persianate Studies (9.1, 2016)
  • Review of PhD thesis A Market for Speech: Poetry Recitation in Late Mughal India, 1690-1810 by Nathan Tabor in Dissertation Reviews (May 2016)
  • Review of PhD thesis Bâzgasht-i Adabî (Literary Return) and Persianate Literary Culture in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Iran, India, and Afghanistan by Kevin Schwartz in Dissertation Reviews (Oct. 2015)
  • Review of Neguin Yavari’s Advice for the Sultan: Prophetic Voices and Secular Politics in Medieval Islam in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (25:4, Oct. 2015, pp. 724–6)
  • Entry “Hermeneutics: Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain” in the Routledge History of Indian Philosophy, ed. Purushottama Bilimoria (in proofs)
  • Entries “Arzu, Siraj al-Din Ali Khan (d. 1756)”, “Garcin de Tassy”, and “Sauda, Mirza (d. 1781)” in Encyclopedia of Indian Religions, Arvind Sharma et al. eds. (Springer, in proofs)
  • Chapter “Urdu as Persian: Some Eighteenth-Century Evidence on Vernacular Poetry as Language Planning” in Texts and Traditions in Early Modern North India, Jack Hawley, Anshu Malhotra, and Tyler Williams, eds. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018)
  • Article “Lines in the Sand: Some Thoughts on Pre-Colonial Language in South Asia in Response to Shreesh Chaudhary” in Indian Linguistics (vol. 74, 2013)
  • Chapter “The Wonders of Words, or the Role of Ḳhān-i Ārzū’s Navādir al-alfāz̤ in the Development of Urdu” in Shamsur Rahman Faruqi felicitation volume (2010) <>
  • Chapter “Braj Reinvented: Colonial Approaches to Hindi Dialects” in Problematizing Language Studies: Cultural, Theoretical and Applied Perspectives (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2010)

Other Publications

Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History, a mass-market history of Persianate Culture in South Asia (322 pp, Hay House Books, New Delhi, 2015)

Delhi book cover