Landscapes of the Islamic World: Archaeology, History, and Ethnography

Landscapes of the Islamic World: Archaeology, History, and Ethnography

Landscapes of the Islamic World: Archaeology, History, and Ethnography

Landscapes of the Islamic World: Archaeology, History, and Ethnography


Islamic societies of the past have often been characterized as urban, with rural and other extra-urban landscapes cast in a lesser or supporting role in the studies of Islamic history and archaeology. Yet throughout history, the countryside was frequently an engine of economic activity, the setting for agricultural and technological innovation, and its inhabitants were frequently agents of social and political change. The Islamic city is increasingly viewed in the context of long and complex processes of urban development. Archaeological evidence calls for an equally nuanced reading of shifting cultural and religious practices in rural areas after the middle of the seventh century.

Landscapes of the Islamic World presents new work by twelve authors on the archaeology, history, and ethnography of the Islamic world in the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, and Central Asia. The collection looks beyond the city to engage with the predominantly rural and pastoral character of premodern Islamic society. Editors Stephen McPhillips and Paul D. Wordsworth group the essays into four thematic sections: harnessing and living with water; agriculture, pastoralism, and rural subsistence; commerce, production, and the rural economy; and movement and memory in the rural landscape. Each contribution addresses aspects of extra-urban life in challenging new ways, blending archaeological material culture, textual sources, and ethnography to construct holistic studies of landscapes.

Modern agrarian practices and population growth have accelerated the widespread destruction of vast tracts of ancient, medieval, and early modern landscapes, highlighting the urgency of scholarship in this field. This book makes an original and important contribution to a growing subject area, and represents a step toward a more inclusive understanding of the historical landscapes of Islam.

Contributors: Pernille Bangsgaard, Karin Bartl, Jennie N. Bradbury, Robin M. Brown, Alison L. Gascoigne, Ian W. N. Jones, Phillip G. Macumber, Daniel Mahoney, Stephen McPhillips, Astrid Meier, David C. Thomas, Bethany J. Walker, Alan Walmsley, Tony J. Wilkinson, Paul D. Wordsworth, Lisa Yeomans.


Landscapes have occupied an increasingly prominent place in the study of the premodern Islamic world over the last three de cades. An exponential increase in the study of primary materials, both historical and archaeological, directly relating to rural socie ties means that many key assumptions based primarily on the studies of cities must be fundamentally reassessed. The shift in focus toward small settlements and agricultural and transhumant communities has necessitated the development of new theoretical and methodological approaches, which are still undergoing critical review and development. One of the most important outcomes of this pro cess is the increasing tendency toward multidisciplinary initiatives that facilitate the combination of evidence derived from several alternative and complementary sources.

Bringing together a variety of data not only provides a more nuanced assessment of the nature and role of extraurban socie ties but addresses previously encountered problems of a fragmentary record or one that is underrepresented by historical media or material culture. For example, a traditional critique of historical narratives has been their strongly urban perspective, contrasted against archaeological data, which might in many cases “fill the gaps.” This volume includes examples of predominantly historical studies of the rural world, but there is indeed a strong reliance on archaeological data in the reconstruction of nonurban socie ties. All the studies presented here are, however, necessarily reliant on historical and ethnographic data. Only by considering these three disciplines in parallel is it pos si ble to attempt to understand the complexity of rural socioeconomic pro cesses and their chronological context.

This volume aims to invoke a broad interdisciplinary and comparative discussion on studies of Islamic landscapes, with an explicit agenda that seeks to bridge the disciplines of archaeology, history, and ethnography. The intention is not to produce a collection of contributions on one par tic u lar fi eld, region, or chronological period, but rather to reflect the scope and diversity of academic studies in . . .

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