Leila Pourtavaf

Feb. 7: Reimagining Royal Domesticity

Locating the Gulistan Harem in the late Qajar Period.

Lecture by Leila Pourtavaf


Leila Pourtavaf, New York University


Thursday, February 7, 2019


Richard Ettinghausen Library at the Hagop Kevorkian Center
50 Washington Square South
NYC 10012

Reimagining Royal Domesticity explores the social, spatial and cultural dimensions of the women’s quarter of Nasir al-Din Shah’s court, variously referred to as his harem or andarun, during his reign (1848-1896). While this period is generally understood to coincide with the emergence of modernity in Iran, the maintenance of a large-scale royal harem is commonly associated with a traditional and outdated Islamic convention. As such, the expansion of the Gulistan harem in the second half of the 19th century, concurrently with greater contact between the Qajar empire and Western modernity, presents us with an interesting paradox. This lecture will focus on some of the demographic, social, physical, and topographic dimensions of Nasser al-Din Shah’s harem, and the various communal and familial relations within it, to argue that this institution was in fact one of the central loci of negotiations with modernity in late 19th century Iran. The presentation will offer a brief sketch of the complex structure of this institution and the everyday life of its residents—at various points estimated to be between 700 and 2000 wives and female relatives, as well as different classes of employees—from physicians and translators, to servants, maids, slaves, and eunuchs.