Manu P. Sobti

Position title: Honorary Fellow (2013-2014)

School of Architecture and Urban Planning, UW-Milwaukee

Portrait image of Manu P. Sobti

The Sliver of the Oxus Borderland: Medieval Cultural Encounters between the Arabs and Persians

How do physical borders and boundaries delineate the nature of cultural interactions and determine the development of historical time and place? What are the kinds of spaces created alongside borders that promote inclusive permeability versus boundaries that generate exclusive separation? Critical biographies of borderlands – the conditions created by these borders and boundaries – are evocative biographies of no places and the people who no longer live there. Yet, these biographies are seldom recorded in scholarly writings even though the passage of history through these so-called spatial ‘edges’ frequently leaves behind a rich palimpsest of cultural records. Extending upon Kevin Lynch’s emphasis on ‘edges’ and Richard Sennett’s fascinating distinction between a boundary that divides, versus a border that serves a place of exchange, this ongoing book project examines one such unique borderland condition on the legendary Silk Road, located on Central Asia’s important Oxus River. Combining a close reading of archival sources spread across repositories in the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, with several years of innovative fieldwork, it seeks to unravel how conflict, reconciliation and interaction between medieval Arab and Persian communities created unique urban forms alongside this geographically significant and politically critical divide.

Dr. Manu P. Sobti shall be a fellow at the IRH in Spring 2013. He is an Islamic architecture and urban historian, associate professor at the School of Architecture & Urban Planning (SARUP), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee USA. His ongoing research focuses on the urban history of early-medieval Islamic cities along the Silk Road and in the Indian Subcontinent, with particular reference to the complex ‘borderland geographies’ created by riverine landscapes. Within the purview of a comparative, trans-disciplinary research project on the Mississippi, Danube, Ganges and Amu Darya Rivers, he is currently completing a manuscript entitled The Sliver of the Oxus Borderland: Medieval Cultural Encounters between the Arabs and Persians for Brill Publications (Leiden, Netherlands) – a comprehensive work that collates his noteworthy fieldwork in libraries, repositories and archives across Central Asia. His work has received several prestigious awards, including the Trans-disciplinary Research Collaborative Award from the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2011–13), the Global Studies Research Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2010-11), the Hamid Bin Khalifa Research and Travel Fellowship for Islamic Architecture and Culture (2009), the Center for 21st Century Studies Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2009-10), the Aga Khan Graduate Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Cambridge (1993-95), and grants from the National Council for East European and Eurasian Research in Seattle (2009-10), the Graham Foundation of the Arts in Chicago (2008-09), the French Institute for Central Asian Studies in Tashkent (2003), and the Architectural Association in London (2001). He has also received multiple teaching and course development awards, including the BP-AMOCO Teaching Excellence Award at the Georgia Institute of Technology (2001), and the Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2011). Sobti has published widely and presented his research at more than 60 national and international venues. He coordinates the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures (blc) Research Program at UWM, directs the SARUP India Program, and conducts Urban Design Studios in Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and New Orleans in partnership with local schools of architecture.