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On Mobility in Afghan History

  • R. D. McChesney (a1)

If we leave aside the imperial histories of those powers for which Afghanistan has been a strategic concern, Afghan historiography has tended to follow a single trajectory: the history of the Pashtuns and their principal royal clan, the Durrani. The non-Pashtun part of the human ecology of the country tends to be summed up as “other groups,” as if that 60 percent of the population only has a history in relation to the royal clan and its state. As the other essays in this roundtable argue, there are many ways to approach Afghanistan's history more inclusively than through Kabul-centric, Pashtun-dominated, top-down narratives or those that focus on the strategic concerns of superpowers. Nile Green sees a half-century gap in the historiography, between the nation-building of the 1920s and the nation-demolishing of the 1990s and beyond, and proposes the study of “subnational and transnational groups” as one way to refine our understanding of the politics of the country during that middle era. James Caron traces an imagined bond with place reflected in rural oral imagery, while Amin Tarzi approaches Afghan historiography itself as a productive field of study. Other areas hardly touched in the existing scholarship are institutional histories (judicial, educational, and fiscal), for which there is a wealth of untapped documentation; the built environment (following the seminal works of Szabo and Barfield on domestic and rural architecture and Schinasi on urban architecture); labor history (including the interconnections of work specializations and industry with ethnic groups); and the history of human bondage in the country.

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1 Recently a significant step toward filling the mid-century historiographical gap has been taken by Boyko, V. S., Vlast’ i oppozitsiia v Afganistane: osobennosti politicheskoi bor'byi v 1919–1953 (Moscow: Barnaul, 2010).

2 Szabo, Albert and Barfield, Thomas J., Afghanistan: An Atlas of Indigenous Domestic Architecture (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1991).

3 Schinasi, May, Kaboul 1773–1948: Naissance et croissance d'une capitale royale (Naples: Universitá degli Studi di Napoli “L'Orientale,” 2008).

4 Barfield, Thomas, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010).

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
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