Women's Worlds in Qajar Iran

Women's Worlds in Qajar Iran

Goals and Scope

The goal of Women's Worlds in Qajar Iran is to address a gap in scholarship and understanding of the lives of women during the Qajar era (1786 - 1925) in Iran by developing a comprehensive digital resource that preserves, links, and renders accessible primary-source materials related to the social and cultural history of women's worlds in Qajar Iran. Through the use of technology it brings together little known archives scattered across the world.

Given the dearth of available primary-source materials related to women in the Qajar era, it is not surprising that, to date, the vast majority of Qajar social histories have focused almost exclusively on the struggles, achievements, and day-to-day realities of the men of that period. This is in part a matter of expediency; while men's writing have been easily accessible in various national archives for decades (and many have in more recent years been published in edited volumes), most women's writings, photographs, and other personal papers have to date remained sequestered in private family hands.

WWQI aims to open up the documented social and cultural histories of Qajar women, thus allowing for the examinations of broader patterns of life during this era. Our collection has paid specific attention to materials that will illuminate women's relations to each other and to family members of various generations, their roles in life cycle rituals, their perceptions of women outside Iran (the Ottoman Empire, South Asia, and Europe, in particular), and the interconnections that women's activities, networks, and allegiances wove between various ethnic and religious communities. The Qajar period is known for a flourishing of all forms of artistic expression, most notably calligraphies and a distinctive, European-influenced style of portraiture; for a diversity of religious beliefs and practices; and for a new opening of Iran to other nations and cultures. Beyond simply historians of women's studies and/or the Qajar period, we hope that scholars and students of art and art history, religion, comparative literature, and languages—to name just a few broad areas of study—will find much within this archive that deepens or expands their work.

In 2009, Women's World in Qajar Iran received a two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that enabled the initial phase of the project. This phase of the project was led by a team of scholars, Dominic Parviz Brookshaw, Manoutchehr M. Eskandari-Qajar, Nahid Mozaffari, Naghmeh Sohrabi, and Afsaneh Najmabadi, under project management of Ramyar Rossoukh. The initial website and database were developed by Charles Forcey of Historicus, Inc. and Pendar Yousefi of Mahimoto.

Digital Holdings

This project uses digital technology to overcome barriers of geography, ownership, and politics—thus opening the way for important, new scholarship. The materials included in the archive are not only those contained in private archives and manuscripts but also published materials from the Middle Eastern Collection in Widener Library and other institutions. They consist of:

  • Writings: letters, prose, poetry, travel writings, essays, periodicals, and diaries
  • Legal documents: wedding contracts, dowry documents, settlements, endowments, powers of attorney, wills, sales, and other financial contracts
  • Artworks: calligraphy, painting, embroidery, weaving, other handicrafts, music, and film
  • Photographs
  • Everyday objects
  • Oral histories

To learn more about how the Archive generates the digital holdings, see the documentary essay by Nicole Legnani, Commissioned by the Office of the Digital Arts and Humanities at Harvard University.

The Harvard Library (HL) central infrastructure accommodates all image, text, and audio materials collected for this archive. All WWQI materials can be accessed through the following Harvard University Library catalogues as well:

HOLLIS Images is a publicly available union catalog of visual resources at Harvard. VIA includes information about slides, photographs, objects, and artifacts in the university's libraries, museums, and archives, and provides a web-based interface for searching and viewing visual image cataloging and related thumbnail images. All still image material gathered for this project will be cataloged at item-level and delivered through VIA.

HOLLIS Catalog—The HOLLIS Catalog of the Harvard Library, the main bibliographic catalog at Harvard, is a database containing over 9 million records for more than 15 million books, journals, manuscripts, government documents, maps, microforms, music scores, sound recordings, visual materials, and data files. The database is updated continually as material is ordered, received, and cataloged.