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E. G. Browne and the Issue of Historical Relevance in Scholarship



This essay reviews Edward Granville Browne's four-volume opus, A History of Persia, a groundbreaking and monumental contribution to our understanding of the historical evolution of Persian literature. Browne's work, conceived over a century ago and published over three decades (1890s-1920s), remains a prime source of historical scholarship in Persian literature, and has recently been re-issued by Iranbooks of Bethesda, Maryland. J. T. P. DeBruijn has written an insightful introductory essay to the new edition in which he discusses a few questions surrounding Browne's work, and ponders the issue of the lifespan of scholarly works as sources of knowledge. What, DeBruijn asks, are the "exceptional qualities" of a scholarly work in the field of humanities that seem at times to "compensate for the unavoidable loss of actuality and save it from ever becoming completely outdated."

This essay begins with an expose of DeBruijn's introduction before moving on to an examination of certain fundamental issues in Browne's work. It then concentrates on the social and intellectual context of Browne's enterprise. It investigates Browne's assertion that he has based his work on two notable historical works of the period: John Richard Green's A Short History of the English People and Jean Jules Jusserand's A Literary History of the English People. In spite of Browne's explicit expressions of indebtedness to these two immensely influential works of historical scholarship in late nineteenth century, none of the scholars who have examined A Literary History of Persia throughout the twentieth century has pursued this line of inquiry. On the basis of a close examination of Browne's methodology in relation to those of his models, the essay demonstrates that Browne makes effective -and very discerning- use of the latest methodologies developed by nineteenth-century continental and British schools of historiography and available to literary-historical scholarship at the turn of the century. This, the essay concludes, is the principal reason why Browne's history still maintains its significance as a primary source for understanding the movement of Persian literature through many vicissitudes over the last millennium.

Author: 
Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak
Volume: 
17
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