Department of History

James Pickett

  • Associate Professor


Central Eurasian History 
Russian and Soviet History
Persianate Islam


Empires of the Steppe
Imperial Russia
Soviet Union
Rise of Islam

Education & Training

  • PhD, Princeton University, 2015

Representative Publications

“Written into Submission: Reassessing Sovereignty through a Forgotten Eurasian Dynasty,” The American Historical Review 123, no. 3 (June 2018).

"Categorically Misleading, Dialectically Misconceived: Language Textbooks and Pedagogic Participation in Central Asian Nation-Building Projects,” Central Asian Survey (December 2017). Adapted for a general audience in “On Language: The Many Flavors of Persian in Eurasia,” EurasiaNet, October 11, 2017.

“Mobilizing Magic: Occultism in Central Asia and the Continuity of High Persianate Culture under Russian Rule,” co-authored with Matthew Melvin-Koushki, Studia Islamica (November 2016).

“Enemies beyond the Red Sands: The Bukhara-Khiva Dynamic as Mediated by Textual Genre,” Journal of Persianate Studies (November 2016).

“Nadir Shah’s Peculiar Central Asian Legacy: Empire, Conversion Narratives, and the Rise of New Scholarly Dynasties.” International Journal of Middle East Studies (July 2016).

“Soviet Civilization Through a Persian Lens: Iranian Intellectuals, Cultural Diplomacy and Socialist Modernity 1941-1955.” Iranian Studies (September 2015).

Research Interests

James Pickett focuses on empire and Islam as entangled sources of authority, with particular attention to historical memory and state formation.

His first monograph, Polymaths of Islam: Power and Networks of Knowledge in Central Asia (Cornell University Press, 2020), examines transregional networks of exchange among religious scholars in the Central Asian city-state of Bukhara. Through mastery of arcane disciplines, these multi-talented intellectuals enshrined their city as a peerless center of Islam, and thereby elevated themselves into the halls of power.

A second book project, Seeing Like a Princely State: Protectorates in Central and South Asia at the Nexus of Early Modern Court and Modern Nation-State, will compare Bukhara's transformation into a Russian protectorate with the Indian princely state of Hyderabad's parallel trajectory into semi-colonial status. It is especially concerned with cultures of documentation in relation to the state.