Imagining the Metropolis on the Islamic Periphery: Commerce, Scholarship, and Architecture in 15th c. Bidar and Timbuktu
By Richard M. Eaton
Paper given at the International Conference on The Imagination of Politics and the Politics of Imagination. Hyderabad, Inida (2009)
Introduction: One might rephrase our conference topic by asking: Which comes first — an imagined polity, followed by a political reality? Or does the political reality appear first, and is only retroactively imagined — that is, theorized? There is evidence for both views. American school children are conventionally taught that the Founding Fathers more or less dropped out of the sky, held a collective séance in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, and then dreamed the American republic into reality. Conversely, some argue that we always first experience the world, and theorize it only retroactively. Today, nation-states are dissolving under our feet, yet we still imagine ourselves living in a 19th century world of such states. Just look at how most departments of history still organize their curriculum. We experience a world that has been radically and willy-nilly globalized, though not yet theorized. That is the dilemma. The American empire, which has been around for some time now, has only just begun to be acknowledged, much less theorized. In this second view, then, historians are merely the attendants who follow an elephant parade, cleaning up afterwards, trying to make sense of a procession that has already passed. Our imagination is deployed solely in theorizing something that has already happened.