Cover of The City as Anthology by Kathryn Babayan
The City as Anthology
Eroticism and Urbanity in Early Modern Isfahan
Kathryn Babayan


280 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503613386
Paperback ISBN: 9781503640108
Ebook ISBN: 9781503627833

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Excerpts and More

Honorable Mention for the 2022 Fatema Mernissi Book Award, sponsored by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA).

Household anthologies of seventeenth-century Isfahan collected everyday texts and objects, from portraits, letters, and poems to marriage contracts and talismans. With these family collections, Kathryn Babayan tells a new history of the city at the transformative moment it became a cosmopolitan center of imperial rule. Bringing into view people's lives from a city with no extant state or civic archives, Babayan reimagines the archive of anthologies to recover how residents shaped their communities and crafted their urban, religious, and sexual selves.

Babayan highlights eight residents—from king to widow, painter to religious scholar, poet to bureaucrat—who anthologized their city, writing their engagements with friends and family, divulging the many dimensions of the social, cultural, and religious spheres of life in Isfahan. Through them, we see the gestures, manners, and sensibilities of a shared culture that configured their relations and negotiated the lines between friendship and eroticism. These entangled acts of seeing and reading, desiring and writing converge to fashion the refined urban self through the sensual and the sexual—and give us a new and enticing view of the city of Isfahan.

About the author

Kathryn Babayan is Professor of Middle East Studies and History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the author of Mystics, Monarchs, and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran (2002).

"The City as Anthology is a landmark of early modern history. It is both a generative model for future scholars and among the best portals to understanding Iran for readers at any level. A testament to Kathryn Babayan's status as one of the most engaging historians of Iran working today."

—Shahzad Bashir, Brown University

"The City as Anthology is a surprising, nuanced, and deeply absorbing contribution to the history of sexuality and queer studies. Meticulously researched and elegantly argued, Kathryn Babayan's reading of early modern Isfahan by means of anthologies reveals a complex eroticism at the center of city life and its manuscript inscription."

—Valerie Traub, University of Michigan

"In The City as Anthology, Kathryn Babayan masterfully demonstrates the intertwining of personhood, love, and sociability in early modern Iran. This innovative study sheds important light on the lives of literate Isfahanis who, through epistles, poems, and sketches, imagined a world at the threshold of modernity."

—Kishwar Rizvi, Yale University

"In The City as Anthology, Kathryn Babayan masterfully discusses the construction of the early modern self through gender, sexuality, and eroticism linked to the urban culture of seventeenth-century Isfahan."

—Deniz Çalış Kural, American Historical Review

"The City as Anthology is a well-researched, theoretically informed, and elegantly presented work. Babayan's close readings of paintings and her literary analyses of texts are always creative and often brilliant."

—M. R. Ghanoonparvar, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Kathryn Babayan's The City as Anthology: Eroticism and Urbanity in Early Modern Isfahan is a groundbreaking, original study that sheds new light on many aspects of Safavid history. Babayan introduces and utilizes a wealth of under-studied and under-utilized sources that fall under the category of anthologies, both written (majmūa) and visual (muraqqa)."

—Sholeh A. Quinn, International Journal of Persian Literature

"The City as Anthology... is... extremely effective in its careful approach to a unique and complicated genre of archival material; the implications of these innovative readings are, in turn, powerfully conveyed by Babayan in an intricate prose and style of argumentation. In addition to introducing and rehabilitating this genre of anthologies, this study provides a 'fresh take' and effectively re-aligns how we understand and interpret the constructs of gender and sexuality in Safavid Iran."

—Colin Mitchell, Iranian Studies