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Reading tarājim with Bourdieu: prosopographical traces of historical change in the South Asian migration to the late medieval Hijaz

Bahl, Christopher D. (2017) 'Reading tarājim with Bourdieu: prosopographical traces of historical change in the South Asian migration to the late medieval Hijaz.', Der Islam, 94 (1). pp. 234-275.


This article presents a new analytical reading of one of the most popular genres in medieval Arabic historiography, biographical dictionaries, in order to address broader questions of historical change in transregional movements and scholarly group cultures. It builds on recent scholarship that focuses on shifting trade patterns across the Western Indian Ocean and in particular the intensification of commercial connections between the Red Sea region and South Asia during the 15th century to advance an argument on the sociocultural dimensions of a concomitant migration of South Asians (al-Hindīyūn, sg. al-Hindī) from the subcontinent to the Hijaz. The case study is empirically grounded in the reading of prosopographical sources, biographical entries (tarājim, sg. tarjama) of South Asians as they appear in biographical dictionaries by the famous Mamlūk historians al-Fāsī (d. 832/1429), al-Maqrīzī (d. 845/1442) and al-Sakhāwī (d. 902/1497) from the late medieval period. Most importantly, Pierre Bourdieu’s (d. 2002) theoretical concepts of “field”, “capital” and “habitus” will provide the heuristic tools to detect social and cultural significances within the narrative fabric of the historiographical texts. Interrelating these significances on an analytical level will allow the study of historical transformations on the basis of traces in the prosopographical archive. I argue that the appearance of these South Asian tarājim in the biographical works can be read as a recording of an increased migration of South Asians during the late medieval period, bringing about a social broadening and cultural diversification of the South Asian community in the Hijaz.

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Date deposited:29 April 2022
Date of first online publication:07 April 2017
Date first made open access:29 April 2022

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