Fields of Study: Russia & Eurasia, Central Asia & Iran, History of Islam
Advisor: Stephen Kotkin, Michael Cook, Jo-Ann Gross
James Pickett studies the social history of empire and Islamic authority in eighteenth and nineteenth century Eurasia.
A hundred years ago an educated person could travel from Western China to Sarajevo or from Siberia to India without ever leaving a single cultural space. This "Persianate sphere" was a cohesive world united not by any kingdom or empire, but by a common high culture rooted in the religion of Islam and filtered through Persian language, literature, and networks of scholarly exchange. Although there is no direct parallel in our own society for this non-state transregional network, James' research bridges the conceptual gap by reimagining conventional regional boundaries, interrogating the nature of interaction between religious and military elites, and exploring the implications for colonialism.
In related projects, James also examines how this historical cultural legacy has been incorporated into subsequent political narratives and reappropriated for the purposes of propaganda, such as by the Soviet cultural societies in 1940s Iran and current language policies of Central Asia.
James has spent the past four years living throughout the Persianate successor states: scouring Arabic biographical dictionaries in Damascus; pawing through Islamic chronicles and Russian colonial records in Saint Petersburg and Kazan; surveying religious endowments and Turkic decrees in Tashkent; deciphering Persian manuscripts in Dushanbe; and, most recently, practicing Hindi in the Delhi archives and attempting to learn Pahlavi.
In past lives, James was variously an amateur political scientist at Carleton College, a novice journalist at Foreign Policy magazine, and a rookie international development wonk at the Brookings Institution. In parallel lives, he runs, climbs things, and geeks out to scifi/fantasy.
More details about James' research can be found on Academia.edu.