Persian in Colonial Calcutta
From the 1780s, the East India Company took an active interest in teaching Persian to its employees. Persian was the language of most record-keeping, formal correspondence and courts of law in northern India at the time, and it was a crucial skill for young officers to master.
At first, Indians and Europeans used the same curriculum anchored in the same manuscript tradition, but eventually some enterprising Europeans found that they could make money by printing editions of Persian pedagogical texts, often under Company patronage. These were distinguished from the manuscripts by their higher price but also by having been 'purified' by European intervention (sometimes with additional commentaries or translations provided). At the same time as the British argued that Indian Persian was decadent and ultimately useless (Company courts stopped using it in 1837), British preferences for learning Persian filtered into the Indian curriculum and changed how Persian was taught in India, including the promotion of the idea that Indian Persian was 'inauthentic' compared to an Iranian standard.
This talk uses a list of book prices from 1816 found in a manuscript in the British Library to show how printed and manuscript Persian pedagogical materials co-existed in colonial Calcutta. The speaker is Dr Arthur Dudney, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Cambridge. His current project, Making Persianate People: Histories of Literary Education Beyond Iran, considers how literary Persian was spread and maintained in the vast region where it had cultural currency but was not a mother tongue.