Andrew McLaren

Andrew McLaren

Dissertation

Ibn A‘tham’s History: Narrative, Method, and Translation in Islamicate Historiography, 290-873/902-1468

Research Interest

I am a student of pre-modern Islamic history, with interests in Islamicate ethics, theology, and written culture and specializing in Arabic and Persian historiography. In particular, I am concerned with the ways that textual practice functioned as a means of locating and cultivating the Muslim self, in society and history alike.

My dissertation is a history of the composition of two works of history by Ibn A‘tham al-Kufi (d. ca. 932), the “Book of Conquests” and the “Book of Chronography.” The first part of the dissertation examines Ibn A‘tham in his own context, arguing that he must be seen as a historian of the early tenth century, rather than of the early ninth century as has recently been argued. I study his methods of composition and his historiographical style, arguing that his two works of history look most like a typical, synthesizing and caliph-oriented chronicles of the classical Abbasid period. In the second part of the dissertation, I examine his reception, first in Arabic and then in Persian. In particular, I try to show that the transmission of his text was governed by slightly different understandings of what history was and what reading history could do. I examine both the material and the, as it happens, ethical dimensions of this question, showing that new understandings of history prompted different handlings of Ibn A‘tham’s history. 

My other work examines the subjective and ethical dimensions of doing theology. In particular, I study how the transmission history of texts can be made to reveal the patterns of sociability that undergirded theological study. My first article (forthcoming in the Journal of the American Oriental Society) examines one such instance, tracking the development of a polemic ascribed to Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 855) and the pious sociability ingrained in Hanbali discussions of theological issues, like God's relationship to the Quran (created or no?). 

I joined Columbia's Department of Religion in 2014 after completing my undergraduate education in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and the Individualized Major Program at Indiana University Bloomington.