WALDMAN, Marilyn


WALDMAN, Marilyn (b. Dallas, Texas, 13 April 1943; d. Columbus, Ohio, 8 July 1996), scholar of Islamic history. Waldman received her BA from Radcliffe College, where she specialized in African Studies, and her MA (1966) and PhD. (1974) from the University of Chicago, where she studied under the noted historian of Islamic Civilizations, Marshall Hodgson. In 1974 she joined the faculty of the Department of History of The Ohio State University at Columbus, where she remained until her death, at the age of 53. Her most significant work is Toward a Theory of Historical Narrative: A Case Study in Perso-Islamicate Historiography (Columbus. Ohio, 1980; tr. as Zamāna, zendagi, and ruzeḡār-e Bayhaqi, by Mansoureh Ettehadieh, Teheran, 1996), in which, responding to a larger discursive turn in the theory and philosophy of history, she employs a controversial literary theory—Speech Act—and analyzes the surviving portions of the History of Bayhaqi, the notable 11th century historian, as a work of literature. Highlighting the narrative structure and rhetorical devices employed by Bayhaqi and outlining his selection, organization and juxtaposition of the ‘secondary’ historical anecdotes, as opposed to his ‘primary account’ of Ghaznavid history, Waldman tries to bring to the surface the significant tension between the explicit and the implicit values of this historical text. The tension conveys the attitudes of the author, often not easily communicated by his statements about the historical figures and events (Meisami, Poliakova, Yavari). Waldman’s principal concerns are to ground Bayhaqi’s work within both expectations of the genre, which she is at pains to demonstrate as pervasive in his writing, and within the context of Bayhaqi’s own life and time, in so far as this is recoverable. Toward a Theory of Historical Narrative raised critical debates on the centrality of the narrative chronicle tradition to the understanding of medieval Islamic history, on the desirability of employing literary theories to analyze historical texts, and on treating historical narratives more as images and representations of the past than reservoirs of presumed historical realities (Bulliet, Meisami, Perry, Siddiq Khan). Although the book had an ambivalent reception, many of Waldman’s insights, especially those alluding to the essentially generic nature of medieval Islamic historiography, and the ways in which the conventions of genre dictate how material is presented, have emerged as a lasting legacy to the field.



Richard Bulliet, in International Journal of Middle East Studies 14/1, 1982, pp. 101-2.

Julie S. Meisami, Persian Historiography: To the End of the Twelfth Century, Edinburgh 1999, pp 79-81.

Idem, “Dynastic History and Ideals of Kingship in Bayhaqi’s Tarikh-i-Masʿudi,” Edebiat 9/1, 1989, p. 69.

John R. Perry, in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 44/3, July 1985, pp. 242-44.

E. A. Poliakova, “The Development of a Literary Canon in Medieval Persian Chronicles: The Triumph of Etiquette,” Iranian Studies XVII/2-3, Spring-Summer 1984, pp. 237-56.

Mohammad Siddigh Khan, in Muslim World Book Review 4/4, summer 1984, pp. 40-42.

M. E. Yapp, in Times Literary Supplement, 19 September 1980, p. 1040.

Houra Yavari, “Taʾammoli dar naqš-e ravāyat-hā-ye afzuda dar tāriḵ-e Bayhaqi,” Iranshenasi XXI/1, 2001, pp. 117-38.

(Dick Davis)

Originally Published: July 20, 2005

Last Updated: July 20, 2005