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Theses Doctoral

Ibn A‘tham's History: Transmission and Translation in Islamicate Written Culture, 290-873/902-1468

McLaren, Andrew G.

This dissertation is a study of the composition and reception of two chronicles written in Arabic in the first decades of the fourth century of the Islamic hijrī era (the tenth century of the current era). They were written by a little-known scholar usually called Abū Muḥammad Aḥmad ibn A‘tham al-Kūfī. Although no complete copy of the Arabic histories survives, the history was widely circulated in Persian. In other words, unlike most authors, Ibn A‘tham became somewhat more famous as his text circulated further. This work sets out to explain how this came to happen in two parts.

The first part examines the composition of Ibn A‘tham’s history, arguing on biobibliographical, paleographical, and textual evidence that Ibn A‘tham must have belonged to the first decades of the fourth/tenth century. This argument serves as prelude to the second part, in which I show how Ibn A‘tham’s history developed over time, watching as selective readings and manuscript damage led to reduced engagements with Ibn A‘tham. Here, by examining how other historians quoted Ibn A‘tham, I track the logics of writing and reading that guided their encounters. The dissertation culminates in the sixth chapter, in which I provide a conceptual history for the Persian translation, showing how Ibn A‘tham’s history was re-imagined and prepared for its yet-bright future as a work of Persian historiography. Ultimately, I try to show the critical place filled by the culture of writing shared between Arabic and Persian: Rather than a firm boundary between two distinct languages, in the lens of Ibn A‘tham’s history, we observe a zone of interaction and innovation.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Haider, Najam
McDermott, Rachel F.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 16, 2021