FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en Sciences humaines et sociales

Dynamics of Transmission: Families, Authority and Knowledge in the Early Modern Middle East (15th-17th centuries) – DYNTRAN


Dynamics of Transmission: Families, Authority and Knowledge in the Early Modern Middle East (15th-17th c.)

Family networks and transmission of knowledge and authority in the Mediaeval and Early Modern Middle East

The role of family-type networks in the Middle East from the 15th to the 17th centuries remained understudied and continued to be very regionally or socially focused, despite some punctual research. However family history has become one of the most stimulating fields in Middle Eastern studies in the last two decades. Thus, the DYNTRAN project has been developed along two main lines of inquiry in order to interrogate the concept of “family” in the Medieval and Early Modern Middle East by examining issues such as the terms of language employed to refer to the family, among others, and to explore the relation between family networks and the transmission of knowledge and authority, be it political, spiritual, artistic, economical or professional. <br />Further, the project aimed not only at analyzing the objects and the frameworks of the transmission, but also at examining the means, practices and strategies essential to this process in their historical context. Finally, it has been particularly interested in investigating the adaptation and development of lineages striving to assure their permanence through time and space. Thus, the project sought to identify these networks and their social and economic environment on the larger scale of the Muslim Middle-East.

From a methodological point of view, our approach sought to build on the collaboration between teams, by facilitating an interdisciplinary dialogue between scholars from fields such as art history, textual studies, and history broadly speaking. The interdisciplinary approach of the project also brought together sources of different kinds, such as texts, documents and objects. It sought as well to establish a bridge between Arab-Muslim, Ottoman, Persian and Central Asian area studies.
Workshops were organized in Marburg (2015), Cairo (2016) and Naples (2017) in order to bring together the French and German teams of DYNTRAN and fostered the discussion on these methodologies and aims. These major gatherings were accompanied by three smaller panels held as part of larger international conferences, all in the year 2017, in France, in Germany, and in Lebanon. The discussions of all workshops were wrapped up coherently in the closing symposium in Paris in March 2018.
In addition, the French team made significant fieldworks to discover new resources, organizing missions particularly in Central Asia and Afghanistan.

The research conducted within the framework of DYNTRAN project shed light on the family, spiritual, and professional networks and their role in facilitating trade and knowledge transfer throughout the region; it also uncovered mechanisms used by these networks for training and skills transfer. The project focused on analyzing the ways in which knowledge and authority transfer occurred, both directly and indirectly. Another subset of transmission mechanisms occurred in official or institutionalized ways versus informal mechanisms.
The project members adopted three main thematic categories: a) Strategies of Transmission; b) Forms of Authority in Social Context; c) The role of “family-type” networks as carriers of knowledge and authority.
Additionally, the Dyntran Online Blog features 32 working papers, published monthly by members of the project and invited contributors.

-Three books are either in press (2019, by A. Tiburcio) and currently in preparation (by S. Aube; and by A. Sabra).
-Successful fieldwork led within the framework of DYNTRAN opens interesting perspectives for future cooperations for several project members, especially with the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan (DAFA).
-Our French-German cooperation contributed towards the development of two new projects directly connected to the DYNTAN project : (a) the DFG Priority Program “Transottomanica” ; (b) the ANR-DFG “EGYlandscape: Land and Landscapes in Mamluk and Ottoman Egypt [13th-18th C.]«, 2019-2021.

-Preliminary results were published in the special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Eurasian Studies (2017/2), edited by Maria Szuppe and Sandra Aube with the collaboration of Anthony T. Quickel, and entitled: Channels of Transmission: Family and Professional Lineages in the Early Modern Middle East.
-The final collective volume of DYNTRAN will cover the whole range of our project. Edited by Ch. Werner, M. Szuppe, N. Michel and A. Fuess with the title Families, Authority and Knowledge in the Early Modern Middle East. Dynamics of Transmission (15th-17th centuries), it will be published late in 2019 in the series “Miroir de l’Orient musulman” (dir. D. Aigle) by Brepols Publishers.
-Individual articles (19) have been published in different journals and edited books, and papers (39) presented at conferences by the project members. Bibliography:
-Thirty-two working papers related to the project are published on the project website (
-Workshops: Programs and abstracts of the three general workshops, the final symposium, and three conference panels organized by DYNTRAN between 2015 and 2018 can be downloaded on:

Family history has become one of the most stimulating fields in Middle Eastern studies in the last two decades. The present project inscribes itself into this recent tradition and proposes to advance its agenda in several directions. First, it moves into the early modern period, covering a time frame from the 15th to the 17th century where the historical role of families remains understudied and continues to be very regionally or socially focused. Secondly, it sets out to bridge the increasing gap that exists in scholarship on the Middle East between the Persianate world and the Arab lands under Mamluk and early Ottoman rule. Geographical mobility and contact areas thus deserve our special attention. Finally, it applies the overarching concept of transmission to family history and sets out to locate dynamics of transmitting authority and knowledge inside family structures, both synchronic and diachronic.

What is actually passed on can be of a very different nature: it might be mystical knowledge and spiritual authority, it might be military know-how and prowess inside amir families, or it might take the shape of political or administrative power inside constructed families or kin groups. Equally, we have to think of scribal, literary and artistic traditions which are transmitted within families of scholars and savants. They can be traced along real objects and be considered as symbolic and real manifestations of legitimacy, status, and power.

Processes of transmission, thus our hypothesis, are shaped by dynamics internal and external to them. Internal with regard to the actual composition of families, external with regard to geographical, temporal and cultural factors such as tribal formations, territorial alignments, economical resources, as well as religious or ideological change. A wide range of sources is at our disposal, including archival material as well as biographical dictionaries, historical narratives and material artefacts. As we try to define the idea of “family” and the protagonists behind it, we aim to provide a better understanding of the role of families and kinship groups in Islamicate cultures before the advent of modernity.

Project coordination

Maria Szuppe (UMR7528 Mondes iranien et indien, CNRS)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CNMS, Philipps-Universität Marburg Philipps-Universität Marburg,Centrum für Nah- und Mittelost-Studien
CNRS, UMR7528 Mondes iranien et indien UMR7528 Mondes iranien et indien, CNRS
IFAO Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale

Help of the ANR 250,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 36 Months

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