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David Motadel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of International History

London School of Economics and Political Science

Born in 1981 in Detmold, Germany
Studied History at the University of Cambridge


Spectacles of Sovereignty: Persian Shahs in Imperial Europe

During my year at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, I will work on a book entitled Spectacles of Sovereignty: Persian Shahs in Imperial Europe. It will examine the European tours of the Qajar monarchs Nasir al-Din Shah (1873, 1878, and 1889) and Muzaffar al-Din Shah (1900, 1902, and 1905) in the era of high imperialism. Both monarchs were received with full pomp by the emperors, kings, and statesmen in St. Petersburg, Istanbul, Berlin, London, Vienna, Paris, and Brussels. A global microhistory, the study will offer a reinterpretation of the relationship between European and non-European rulers in an age of European domination. It will explore how participation in the rituals and ceremonials of a state visit – such as gift-giving, the exchange of decorations, and military spectacle – gave expression to the non-European monarchs' dynastic legitimacy and their country's sovereignty. It seeks to show that state visits provided non-European monarchs with a way of integrating themselves and their countries into a system of international relations that was dominated by the European powers. The work draws on sources from British, French, German, Austrian, Belgian, Dutch, Swiss, Russian, Turkish, and Iranian archives, including the Persian travelogues (safarnamas) of the shahs.
Moreover, I will use the year at the Wissenschaftskolleg to complete an edited volume on the expansion of international society in the long 19th century, entitled Struggles for Sovereignty: Non-European Powers in the Imperial Age, which is closely related to my work on the shahs. The book will explore the relationship between the few nominally independent non-European states and the Concert of Europe. It will examine how countries such as Abyssinia, China, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and Siam managed to keep European imperialism at bay, whereas others, most notably Hawaii, Korea, and Morocco, struggled, but ultimately failed, to maintain their sovereignty. Bringing together historians with different regional expertise, the volume aims to give agency to the non-European actors and to connect this history with wider debates on sovereignty, territoriality, and hierarchy in the modern world order.

Recommended Reading

Motadel, David, ed. Islam and the European Empires. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.
-. Islam and Nazi Germany's War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014.
-. "Qajar Shahs in Imperial Germany." Past and Present 213, 1 (2011): 191-235.

Publications from the Fellows' Library

Motadel, David ( London [u.a.], 2013)
Islam and Germany’s war in the Soviet borderlands, 1941–5

Motadel, David ( Oxford, 2011)
Qajar Shahs in imperial Germany