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Multi-Country Fellowships at 25: The Colonial Political Economy of Trans-Frontier Trade through Pesh

This essay is Part Five in a series commemorating the 25th anniversary of CAORC's Multi-Country Research Fellowship Program.

Read Part One: Explaining Countries’ Differential Success in Combating HIV/AIDS, by Rachel Sullivan Robinson

Read Part Two: Long-Term Agricultural Sustainability in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean, by John M. Marston

Read Part Three: Incense Production in Ancient Southern Arabia, by Joy McCorriston

Read Part Four: Fighting Malaria in the Mediterranean, by Marcus Hall

The Colonial Political Economy of Trans-Frontier Trade Through Peshawar

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, 1996-97 Fellow

Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian History, James Madison University

I am honored to be the first CAORC Multi-Country Fellowship awardee to receive joint clearance from both the Governments of India and Pakistan for a project designed to address the social history of Peshawar, an important frontier city in the North-West Frontier of British India. The CAORC grant combined with SSRC funding allowed me to spend six months in Peshawar, three months in Lahore and three months in New Delhi.

I worked primarily with colonial trade records held at government archives, successfully locating materials about Peshawar in all three research locations. I began to see Peshawar not as a place of its own, as I had originally proposed, but rather as one node in a vast web of commercial networks involving Kabul and Russian Central Asia, the Indus River, Baluchistan, the Punjab, British India, the Indian Ocean basin, and the global imperial political economy.

entering Khyber Pass from Afghanistan

Entering Khyber Pass from Afghanistan.

My dissertation examined Peshawar’s changing market relationships to Kabul and Qandahar during the nineteenth century using a narrative organized around colonial transformations in (a) money-use and credit-debt dynamics, (b) the commercial power of writing and literacy, and (c) forms of local and inter-regional mobility. The thesis received top ranking in the Department of History at the University of Michigan in 2001.

The recognition from UM allowed me to apply for and receive a Gutenberg-e Fellowship from the American Historical Association in 2004, which led to the 2009 digital incarnation of my book, Connecting Histories in Afghanistan, which was subsequently released in print by Stanford University Press in 2011.

connecting histories in afghanistan, market relations and state formation on a colonial frontier, shah mahmoud hanifi

The thesis and book resulting from my research in South Asia were made possible by the incredible support I received from the offices and staff members at the American Institute of Indian Studies and American Institute of Pakistan Studies in New Delhi and Islamabad, respectively. My needs were predicated on those of my wife and our two children, ages three and five, who accompanied me throughout that research year.

The AIIS and AIPS offices arranged fantastic accommodations and provided unending support for all our needs domestically and in schools and research sites in each municipality. My family’s involvement with local schools and neighbors opened up new social and cultural worlds for us in South Asia. Those experiences continue to resonate in all our lives, and indeed now among grandchildren who benefit from the enduring impact of the CAORC Fellowship for my career and family.

Peshawar in the 1990s.

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi is a Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian History at James Madison University. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Institute of Indian Studies and on the South Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies.

Asu Selen Özcan

Learn more about CAORC Fellowships.

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