The Silk Road as Process: James Millward’s “Very Short Introduction” & the Role of Art in Silk Road Studies

Posted in Warp and Weft: Art & Power in Central Eurasia by Sarah Klump

James Millward, professor of Chinese and Central Eurasian history at Georgetown University, has achieved the formidable task of condensing the Silk Road’s 5,000+  miles and 5,000 years of history* into a mere 121 pages for the Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series. Although the book is written for a non-expert audience, to the scholar it stands as a close appraisal of the historiography of the Silk Road and a thoughtful summary of the current state of the field. The book prompts the expert reader toward the same exercises undertaken by Millward in its writing: What constitutes the most important information about the Silk Road? And what framework proves most useful for presenting this information? Using the term “silk road” as shorthand for trans- and inter-Eurasian exchange rather than as a reference to any concrete route connecting China and Rome, Millward draws on recent research to describe multiple “silk roads”— biological, technological, cultural, etc. Deemphasizing […]

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Crimea, Central Asia, & Russia: Cheat Sheet Part One

Posted in The Bear and the Dragon in Central Asia by Bradley Jensen Murg

Introduction and Overview Russia’s recent military incursion into the Crimea has brought a level of attention to the northern Black Sea region rarely seen over the last couple of centuries. This corner of the northern Black Sea is generally not a source of daily global news. Nonetheless, when the world’s focus is drawn to Crimea, it seldom disappoints. In 1854 Tennyson marked the events of the Battle of Balaclava with his famous poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” This engagement, part of the disastrous Crimean War, precipitated enormous changes to Russian domestic policy.  As economic historian Alexander Gershchenkron famously noted, Russia’s dramatic loss marked the beginning of the development of the modern, Russian economy with significant implications for subsequent political development. Nearly a century later, in 1945, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill negotiated the outlines of post-War Europe at Yalta – the implications of which remain a point of historical […]

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A Bombing in Kabul and an Attack in Kunar: Assigning Value to Life

By Melissa Kerr Chiovenda

When I first got the news that a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul had been attacked by the Taliban on Friday, January 17, it was through a vague reference on Facebook from an acquaintance. Since I left Afghanistan in summer 2013, after having spent 18 months in the country since 2009 (and a full year in 2012-2013) doing anthropological fieldwork, this is usually how I first hear of such incidents, and I then eagerly await more news, either from social media or news websites. In Afghanistan, I mainly worked in the provinces of Bamyan and Nangarhar, but, when passing through Kabul, I did like to stop at the Taverna du Liban, the restaurant targeted. I knew the Lebanese owner, Kamel Hamedeh, and some of the staff working for him. The news finally came after several hours of anxiously checking back online that Kamel had been killed, alongside 20 more people, both […]

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From Halle to Tashkent to Vienna: The VolkswagenStiftung International Research Partnership

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

The most ambitious collaborative international historical research project in Uzbekistan right now (and likely all of post-Soviet Central Asia) is also the most under-publicized.  (Aside: for details on another collaborative, international project, see my story on the Balkh History Project.)  For the past four years a cadre of European and Uzbek researchers have been scouring the Tashkent archives and training a new generation of scholars for a project entitled “Archives Talk” funded by VolkswagenStiftung.  Thomas Welsford, author of Four Types of Loyalty in Early Modern Central Asia and a driving force behind this project, was kind enough to sit down with me in Tashkent to discuss both the achievements and challenges of pursuing long-term, collaborative scholarship in Uzbekistan. The Project The seed of the project was initially planted by Jürgen Paul and Paolo Sartori, both of whom had been working on a series of VolkswagenStiftung and Gerda Henkel Foundation projects in […]

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Kate Lapham on “Learning to See Invisible Children: Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Central Asia”

By Kate Lapham

Rouse, M., & Lapham, K. (Eds.). (2013). Learning to See Invisible Children: Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Central Asia. Central European University Press. Education is the first institution of society outside the family that touches a child’s life through attendance of a kindergarten or primary school. Children who learn the lessons of prejudice, oppression, and corruption through exclusion from education or discrimination in the classroom will internalize and perpetuate these values as adults, making societies less cohesive and less equitable.  In this light, education that is inclusive and high-quality becomes a question of human rights and a necessity for peaceful and prosperous political development. It is a public good rather than a charitable activity, and the success of an education system delivering on this promise can be judged by the way it touches the lives of children most likely to face discrimination. In Central Asia, those most likely to […]

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From Exeter CASN, Edward Lemon’s “Quoting Marx in a Tajik University: Producing Docile Bodies”

Posted in Reposts, Revelations & Revolutions by Amanda E. Wooden

(Reposted by agreement with the Exeter Central Asian Studies Network.  The original, posted on Jan. 21, 2014, can be found here.) By Edward James Lemon Edward Lemon The Soviet Union may be dead, but Marx retains his grip on Tajik academia.  His thinking still pervades the teaching of history in some universities in the country. In September 2013 I had the privilege to spend the day at the newly established Garm State University in the Rasht Valley.  Originally established as a regional campus of the Pedagogical Institute in Dushanbe, the university gained independence in 2013. During my visit the caretakers were busy tending to the grounds and cleaning the new campus buildings in preparation for the visit of President Rahmon later that month. I spent the morning with the Rector of the university, who gave me a tour and told me about how he had trained as an economist in […]

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CESS award-winner Roberto Carmack’s “’True Sons and Daughters of the Kazakh People’: Frontline Propaganda Among Kazakh Soldiers, 1941-1945”

Posted in Reposts, Revelations & Revolutions by Amanda E. Wooden

At the last CESS Conference in Madison, Wisconsin (October 2013), Roberto Carmack was awarded the 2013 CESS Graduate Student Paper Award.  Roberto is a PhD candidate in the history department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  He is currently completing his dissertation, entitled “The Mobilized and the Repressed: The Peoples of Kazakhstan at War, 1941-1945″.  This project analyzes how Soviet authorities integrated Kazakhstanis into the army and labor force through conscription, propaganda, and repression.  It argues that mobilization catalyzed the creation of multiple Soviet identities among Kazakhstanis.  Two of Carmack’s articles have been published: “History and Hero Making: Patriotic Narratives and the Sovietization of Kazakh Frontline Propaganda, 1941-1945″ (Central Asian Survey, vol. 33 (1)) and “‘And They Fought For Their Socialist Motherland’: The Creation of the Multiethnic Red Army, 1941-1945″ (Otan tarikhy 4 (64)).  Carmack’s research has been supported by a Fulbright IIE Fellowship and the history department of the University of Wisconsin – […]

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From the Exeter Central Asian Studies Network: Asel Doolotkeldieva’s “What do we know about local democracy in Kyrgyzstan?”

Posted in Reposts, Revelations & Revolutions by Amanda E. Wooden

(Reposted by agreement with the Exeter Central Asian Studies Network.  The original, posted on Dec. 6, 2013, can be found here.) By Asel Doolotkeldieva Most people expect the main space of contestation in Kyrgyzstan to be found on the streets or with the use of violence on provincial roads. My ethnographic observations, however, indicate the presence of other emerging forms of social contestation. On 8 April 2010, following the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, a smaller change of power took place in one of the major state owned factories, Kyrgyzneftegas, located in Kochkor-Ata monogorod (a town where the majority of the population work at a single industrial enterprise), in Jalal-Abad province. This was initiated when a group of active workers, with a partial affiliation to the local branch of Ata-Meken party (the oldest opposition party which participated in the two revolutions), accused the director, Iskhak Pirmatov, of corruption and money laundering. According […]

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Jadids & Bolsheviks: Adeeb Khalid’s sort of sequel to The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

For most scholars of Central Asian history Adeeb Khalid‘s work needs no introduction.  The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform is one of the most cited books in the field and Islam after Communism stands as one of the very few synthetic treatments of Central Asia’s Soviet century.  I had the chance to catch up with my former teacher after his presentation at the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies convention in Sarajevo – where he had the courage to stand in front of a room full of Persianate scholars and argue that “Tajik” as a category only came into being in opposition to “Uzbek” after 1924 .  By way of discussing his forthcoming monograph (Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Making of Uzbekistan, which follows the Jadids into the 1920s and early 1930s), Khalid outlined his attempts to answer some of the biggest misconceptions of a very misunderstood period […]

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Talking Peace in the Caucasus: A New Security Challenge Dimension

Posted in The Caucasus Insider by Maxim A. Suchkov

In 1996, the expert and academic community in the North Caucasus recognized a need for a more nuanced approach to tackling local challenges and initiated a broad discussion platform for acute regional issues to be debated and contextualized. This year the VII Congress “Peace in the North Caucasus through Languages, Education and Culture: Russia-the Caucasus-the International Community” (Мир через языки, образование, культуру: Россия-Кавказ-Мировое сообщество), held every three years, was hosted in the North Caucasus administrative capital city, Pyatigorsk.  It attracted more than 200 participants (another 400 took part distantly) and included academics, pundits, officials, ministers and other opinion-makers.  The key speakers, participants and events are highlighted in these pictures.  The geography of participants in the Congress was also diverse; there were representatives from more than thirty Russian regions as well as from the United States (for example, Dr. Steven Beebe of Texas State University), France, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Greece, etc.  The Congress objective was […]

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Mother of Cities: The Oxford Balkh History Project

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

As we fully enter the conference season, many will be reminded that a “panel” implies varying degrees of cohesion between the different speakers.  Conference-goers who attended “Balkh: Transformation of a Sacred City in the Early Islamic Era” at the recent ASPS conference in Sarajevo from September 1-6 witnessed a panel in which all of the speakers had been working together for over two years using entirely different sources in different languages to address a common set of research problems related to the city of Balkh in northern Afghanistan.  These members of the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project – Arezou Azad (Oxford), Edmund Herzig (Oxford), Robert Hoyland (ISAW / Oxford), and Tasha Vorderstrasse (University of Chicago)  – kindly sat down with me after their respective presentations to discuss Balkh, collaborative history, and long-term exchange in turbulent locales. Balkh’s Place in History During his presentation, Herzig set the stage for his […]

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Threats to the funding of research on Central Eurasia

By Laura Adams

It’s a difficult time for Central Eurasian studies, especially from the perspective of funding for research in the field. Blows to the material support for the field are coming from many sides. The United States government has been cutting programs that support U.S. citizens wanting to do research and language training. As I described in an article earlier this year, the economic crisis and subsequent sequestrations of the federal budget have disproportionately affected international higher education programs. National Resource Centers (NRCs) supporting the study of our part of the world are faring worse than international programs overall, with less than 60% of their 2007 funding in current dollars. Then in October, one of those programs that directly targets the countries of the post-Soviet world, Title VIII, has not been funded for 2013. Title VIII funded advanced research and language training through NGOs such as IREX and NCEEER and advocates are requesting that […]

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From the Exeter Central Asian Studies Network: John Heathershaw’s “What does a female presidential candidate in Tajikistan tell us about gender equality?”

Posted in Reposts, Revelations & Revolutions by Amanda E. Wooden

(Reposted by agreement with the Exeter Central Asian Studies Network.  The original, posted on Oct. 7, 2013, can be found here.) What does a female presidential candidate in Tajikistan tell us about gender equality? By John Heathershaw The choice of Oinhol Bobonazarova, a lawyer and long-standing human rights campaigner, as the principal candidate of the opposition in the Tajik presidential elections is worthy of some reflection.    Often female candidacies for the ultimate office are said to be symbolically important – a great example to the younger members of the under-represented half of the population which may now aspire to greater involvement in political life.  However, in this case it may in fact symbolise the very opposite:  increasing patriarchy in the post-Soviet era. Tajikistan has had prominent female politicians before including a female Vice-President.  However, it is important to recognise the context of the Soviet era when the prominence of women […]

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From Dissertation Review: Jennifer Griffiths’ “Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan”

Posted in Reposts, Revelations & Revolutions by Amanda E. Wooden

Reposted by agreement with the author and the editors of Dissertation Review: A review of the Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Центральный государственный архив Республики Казахстан / Қазақстан Республикасы Орталықмемлекеттік мұрағаты), Almaty, Kazakhstan.   Kazakhstan’s Central State Archive (TsGARK) is the largest archive in the country, and essential to any researcher working on Kazakh history. With almost two million dela, the archive mainly covers the Soviet and pre-revolutionary periods, and has particularly strong holdings relating to nineteenth-century imperial administration, thanks in part to the amalgamation of material from other tsarist administrative centers, especially Omsk. Useful additional fondy relate to the personal papers of a whole host of politicians, artists, writers and scientists. In addition, the Kazakh government has funded schemes to make copies of sources stored in archives outside Kazakhstan, most notably from RGADA, RGASPI and GARF in Russia, which are now kept in a special fond, R-2300. The overall richness of the archive is augmented by […]

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The 2013 CESS Conference – Live!

Posted in Reposts, Revelations & Revolutions by Amanda E. Wooden

Last night, the 14th Annual Central Eurasian Studies Society conference began.  It runs from Oct. 3 – 6 at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is hosted by the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia (CREECA).  Click here for the conference program.  The conference is housed in the Pyle Center right on Lake Mendota. I will be live blogging a bit about the conference here and tweeting about it at @aewooden and @CESS_news. Also stay tuned for photos and more detailed posts about panels by other bloggers!

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The Remarkable Life of Zainap Maksudova: Alfrid Bustanov on his New Research Project

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

This post is the continuation of a discussion of Bustanov’s documentary: “The Legacy of Siberian Muslims”  Despite still being at the beginning of his career, Bustanov has published numerous books and articles on a diverse array of topics in English, Russian, and Tatar.  The documentary discussed in our previous article was part of a broader research agenda, the results of which Bustanov published in Russian: Knizhnaia kul’tura sibirskikh musul’man (Moscow: Marjani Publishing House, 2013).  He is currently editing his dissertation research – “Settling the Past: Soviet Oriental Projects in Leningrad and Alma-Ata” – into a monograph for publication.  In cooperation with his advisor, Michael Kemper, Bustanov recently completed Islamic Authority and the Russian Language: Studies on Texts from the North Caucasus, European Russia and Western Siberia (Amsterdam: Pegasus Publishing House, 2012), as well as a facsimile and Russian translation of a biographical dictionary of Daghestani Islamic scholars: Nazir ad-Durgeli: Uslada […]

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Hidden Treasure-Trove of Manuscripts: The Oriental Department of the St. Petersburg State University Library

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

St. Petersburg’s status as a world-class destination for the study of Islamic manuscripts is well-established.  The Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Rare Books Collection of the National Library are hallowed grounds for pawing through ancient texts.  In a recent trip to Piter I spent much of my time in the somewhat lesser-known Oriental Department of the Scientific Library of St. Petersburg State University (Восточный отдел Научной Библиотеки им. Горького СПбГУ, unofficially also known as библиотека Восточного факультета) and was extremely impressed not only with the collection itself, but the warm hospitality of the staff.  What follows is based on several conversations with head of the department Milana Aleksandrovna Azarkina and curator of the manuscripts section Elena Gennad’evna Firsova, as well as an unpublished article by Azarkina: “Biblioteka Vostochnogo fakul’teta: nekotorye svedeniia iz istorii formirovaniia fonda” (“The Library of the Oriental Faculty: Some Information […]

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Perso-Helleno-Indo-Scythian-Sino Eurasia: Jim Millward’s Take on the Central Eurasian Survey Course

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

Several months ago I asked Scott Levi how he managed to squeeze in two thousand years of Central Asian history into a single introductory class.  More recently, I continued the conversation with Jim Millward to learn about his own undergraduate and graduate courses of similar chronological and thematic scope.  In this case, I enjoyed the advantage of having actually taken the graduate version of “Central Eurasia in World History” while studying at Georgetown.  As I soon learned from our discussion, however, Millward’s teaching philosophy has evolved a great deal since then. Chronology and Geography The basic mold of Millward’s course was inspired by some detective work into the history of the sub-discipline’s pedagogy: “When I started doing this I actually found a transcript of  Joseph Fletcher‘s lectures for a course pretty similar to this, which he’d given back in the early 1980s, a year or so before he died.  Even […]

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From vernacular to global Islam? ESCAS conference discussions

Posted in Pray, pay and obey by Aisalkyn Botoeva

In August 5-7, 2013 Nazarbayev University hosted the 14th biennial conference of the European Society for Central Asian Studies (http://www.escas.org/) in Astana. Since the conference has already been generally discussed by Diana Kudaibergenova and given the scope of our column (“Pray, pay and obey”), I would like to highlight some of the presentations that addressed various aspects of Islam in the region. Three major panels on the subject gathered scholars who addressed issues of the social carriers, practices and spaces of religion, as well as negotiations of foreign vs. nationally ‘appropriate’ forms of Islam in the Central Asian region. On social carriers I was fortunate to attend two presentations that, in line with Weber’s conceptualization of social carriers as social groups that reify and pass a particular religious ethic on from one generation to the next (c.f., Turner 1974), contributed to our understanding of the pluralist nature of such groups […]

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Living Shrines of Uyghur China: Between Art and Document (part II)

Posted in Warp and Weft: Art & Power in Central Eurasia by Sarah Klump

Continued from the previous post: Living Shrines of Uyghur China: Between Spirit and Politics “I wanted the viewer to be the believer, to stand in front of this marker imbued with so much faith and have an intimate experience”—Lisa Ross, Photographer Art or Document? This quote points to the need to consider the very medium of Lisa Ross’s Living Shrines exhibition: photography. Hanging on the walls of the Rubin, or bound in a sleek coffee table-style book, Ross’s images are presented to the world as art, yet the exhibition’s commentators stress the photographs’ documentary function in the midst of the shrines’ uncertain future. As documents, the photographs take on an instructive, classifying power. While certain aspects of the book work to ward against this sense—such as the decoupling of the photographs from their captions, or the absence of the term “catalogue”— the inclusion of others, such as a “Glossary of […]

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“The Steppe and the Sown”: European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS) Biennial Conference 2013

By Diana Kudaibergenova

  From August 4th to the 7th, Nazarbayev University in Astana hosted the European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS) XIII Biennial conference with “The Steppe and the Sown” theme. The conference was dedicated to the study and image of both pastoral nomadic and sedentary lifestyles and heritage as well as the complexities between the two. The panels and papers were organized into six themes varying from history, anthropology to politics, education, sociology and arts. Historical themes covered a wide range of issues from colonial and Soviet experiences and focused more generally on the steppe, its frontiers and images. Several panels focused on gender matters and the role and conditions of women in contemporary Central Asia. The field of cultural and literary studies was widely represented by some deep considerations of early pre-Soviet, Soviet and late Soviet works by Central Asian writers and their ideas about nomadic heritage, history and […]

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Nathan Spannaus’ Dissertation on Abu Nasr al-Qursawi

By Alfrid Bustanov

Nathan Spannaus, Islamic Thought and Revivalism in the Russian Empire: an Intellectual Biography of Abu Nasr Qursawi (1776-1812). PhD Thesis. McGill University, Montreal, 2012. 275 p. The history of Muslim communities of Inner Russia is now in the focus of international scholarship. Not only are scholars publishing and translating Arabic-script written sources, but they are also preparing fundamental monographs involving a careful discussion of various aspects of the social history of Islam in Russia.[1] Nathan Spannaus devoted his dissertation to a life story and oeuvre of the prominent Tatar theologian Abu Nasr Qursawi. Consulting reference works on Islamic legal and theological terminology and history the Author successfully pursued the goal of bringing Qursawi’s discussion into the broader Islamic studies context. By doing so, Spannaus is following in the footsteps of Prof. Michael Kemper who undertook a similar project (on a larger chronological scale and source base) in 1998.[2] By moving […]

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NATO and Russia: Reconciling Interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia?

Posted in The Caucasus Insider by Maxim A. Suchkov

About 70 policy-makers, diplomats, academics, experts and students from all over the North Caucasus Federal District – as well as Moscow, Brussels and Berlin – visited the city of Pyatigorsk June 6-8, 2013 for the conference, “New Challenges to Regional Security” organized by the NATO Information Office in Moscow and Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University. The significance of the conference reached far beyond the region. Even James Appathurai, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy and NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, joined the conference from the NATO HQ in Brussels. While Russian regional analysts and academics received an opportunity to share their insights and learn the Alliance’s vision on certain issues straight from the horse’s mouth, NATO officials were able to listen and directly reach out to those who deal daily with security problems on the ground. The opening remarks by Robert Pszczel, […]

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Living Shrines of Uyghur China: Between Spirit and Politics (part I)

Posted in Warp and Weft: Art & Power in Central Eurasia by Sarah Klump

“The history of the shrine is less important than its current function: many of the shrines’ actual histories and religious initiations have been forgotten over time. It is through a specific function that shrines derive their real meaning for the people who visit them.”—Rahila Dawut, Uyghur Ethnographer Earlier this month, Lisa Ross’s photographic exhibition Living Shrines of Uyghur China came to a close at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, but its accompanying book—with contributions from Central Asian historian Alexandre Papas, Uyghur ethnographer Rahilä Dawut, curator Beth Citron, and Ross herself—remains as a lasting contribution to scholarship on society and culture in Xinjiang. A closer look at the exhibition, the book, and the numerous reviews of each continues a conversation begun in a previous blog post about the process by which visual representation of Central Asia produces knowledge of the region for the general western public, and how […]

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Long Shadow of Herodotus: Joe Ricci on Ancient Rome’s own Perilous Frontier

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

While in St. Peterburg on a recent research trip I was intrigued to learn that Joe Ricci, a colleague from my Princeton cohort, is living in the city long term.  After all, I knew Ricci as a scholar of Byzantine history, and Constantinople lies a rather long way from the Gulf of Finland, and Rome further still.  What follows is the outcome of a lengthy discussion about steppe-sedentary dynamics, Late Roman history, and Soviet archaeology. State of the Field(s) and Ricci’s Intervention There is a subfield within Central Asian studies sandwiched between history and anthropology that seeks to explain the interaction between pastoralist societies and sedentary ones.  Names like Khazanov, Barfield, di Cosmo, and Grousset loom large in this domain and often form the first couple of units on Central Asian introductory history courses.  What sustained empires on the steppe, where few material resources were to be found?  Why did […]

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Open Source Society and Central Asia

Posted in Digital Mahalla by Cody Behles

Last March the 3rd annual Regional Open Source Conference of Central Asia was held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The choice of Dushanbe as the host city (Tajikistan has the second lowest internet penetration in the region after Turkmenistan) made an important statement about how the conference organizers viewed the use of open source technology in Central Asia. The topics ranged from development, persons with disabilities, e-government, and education but carried a central theme of “Open Data, Open Systems and Open Technology”. An underlying current within these topics is the idea that through open source technology we can bypass existing infrastructure to create projects which directly affect the people they are intended to benefit. Open source technology offers more potential to more people more quickly than any other infrastructure project has before. This is because open source technology is quickly expanding outside of the world of software into a world of things. Two works, […]

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You know you’re researching in Eurasia when…

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

AHA Today recently published a post about mundane problems commonly faced by historians.  Some will be familiar to scholars of Eurasia (e.g. “someone takes your favorite seat at the archive”), others less so – as many of our contributors pointed out, being annoyed that another scholar took the last power outlet presupposes working in a country with reliable electricity. I reached out to a variety of scholars of Eurasian studies (mostly – but not entirely – historians working in the archives) to ask: “What are some common challenges specific to researching in Eurasia?”  They were not shy in expressing themselves: The success of your project depends on the changing mood of an archive keeper.  Archivists assume that the documentary repository under their charge was set up as a social club for their exclusive benefit, researchers being unwelcome intruders in this cosy atmosphere. Outrageous photocopying charges, and the obligation to pay them […]

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Russo-British Discussions in the North Caucasus: Analyzing Current Events through History’s Lens

Posted in The Caucasus Insider by Maxim A. Suchkov

On May 20th, a group of three LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science) history professors visited Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University, a prestigious educational institution in the Russian North Caucasus. The University hosted the final round of the Paulsen Fellowship Programme designed to bring promising Russian historians to British research venues. While it was not the prime goal of their visit, the guests took time out of their busy schedules to meet with faculty and graduate students.  For the latter it was obviously a once in a lifetime chance to pick the brain of Dominic Lieven, a notable authority on Russian history and the politics of the post-Soviet space, author of six books including the epic Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals (Yale University Press, 2001). The discussion concerned an array of issues from the situation in Syria, great power politics in Central Asia and the Russian-British relationship. The audience of about […]

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Gezi Protests as a model for Central Asia

Posted in Digital Mahalla by Cody Behles

When Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 revolution was credited with using social media as a way to communicate during protests, it was seen as the beginning of a shift in how political discourse in the country occurred. While the technology was used mostly to communicate rather than to organize and was limited to certain demographics, it still marked the potential for change. At the end of May, the full might of the internet’s ability to create networks, to organize individuals, and to raise up change from the grassroots level was brought to Turkestan. The Occupy Gezi movement started as a peaceful environmental protest against the destruction of Taksim Gezi park (a small part of the larger Taksim square) and the construction of a shopping mall in its place. This quickly developed into a protest against the Erdogan government’s increasingly repressive leadership when police used force to repress the movement. This action inspired similar […]

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Rap, Resistance, and Iran’s 2013 Election

Posted in Warp and Weft: Art & Power in Central Eurasia by Sarah Klump

Classical music aficionados are fond of saying that in music, the silences have as much meaning as sound, and in the lead-up to Iran’s presidential election today, the relative silence of Persian rappers compared to their lyrical engagement in 2009 is deafening.[i]  Why has this year’s presidential election failed to excite Iran’s hip-hop community to its previous level of politically-articulate production?  Widespread belief that the 2009 results were fraudulent spawned the Green Movement and an abundance of protest rap, but even prior to this escalation, well-known rappers were commenting on election issues in their lyrics and had recorded songs in support of reformist candidates Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karrubi.  Westerners took note of rap’s resonance with Iran’s youth, the largest segment of Iran’s population, and began to analyze its contents for insight into the country’s future.  On the eve of Iran’s presidential election, a closer look at Persian rap as […]

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Connections Across Time and Space: Alfrid Bustanov’s Documentary “The Legacy of Siberian Muslims”

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

The documentary embedded below (also viewable at this link) is the product of careful ethnographic research almost seven years in the making.  For Alfrid Bustanov, who received his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam just months ago, following these Siberian families is a labor of love.  Bustanov was kind enough to take time out of his continuing research in Tatarstan to speak with me about the genesis of this video and his future research agenda. Origins Himself a Tatar from Omsk, Russia, Bustanov’s connection to this research is personal, dating back to an ethnographic research expedition in which he participated as an undergraduate at Omsk University in 2005.  While investigating Islamic sacred places in the village of Bol’shoi Karagai (Qaraghai awyl) in Tumen Oblast’, an elderly woman ushered him into her home to show Bustanov something he had never seen before: Islamic manuscripts scribed in the Arabic alphabet.  “I was […]

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Two Millennia in Four Months: Scott Levi on Taming the Central Asian History Survey Course

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

One of my aims here on Bactriana is to fuel a dialogue not only about Central Asian historical scholarship, but teaching as well. I reached out to Scott Levi at the Ohio State University for an initial foray into this topic because his research has endeavored to place Central Asia within the broader dialogue of world history. Infusing intimidating proper nouns like “Qarakitai” and “Maturidi” with thematic historical significance in an introductory survey course is no simple task, but one for which Levi is especially well-suited. Unlike many other subfields in history – particularly European and American studies – there is no set curriculum for a Central Asian history course.  Even the very conceptions of such courses vary dramatically between instructors.  With what century to begin the course?  When does the story end?  What is Central Asia, exactly?  Are there any reliable textbooks out there?  What about accessible primary sources? In order […]

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Central Asian Digital Repositories

Posted in Digital Mahalla by Cody Behles

Digital repositories are one of the most prominent elements of the open access movement in universities today. Collecting publications, resources, and content generated by an institution and making them available to the public creates an online archive and serves as a representation of the institution. Universities, research institutions, and libraries are most often responsible for managing these repositories (for background information, Lynch). However, single university institutional repositories that are often associated with Western universities are largely absent from the Central Asian region. As of this writing I have only been able to uncover one institutional repository which matches this description:  American University of Central Asia’s Digital Library. However, there are many more digitization projects in the region which have adopted a different perspective which deserve the attention of scholars not only for their convenient access to useful sources, but also because these projects serve as an example of collaboration and inter-organization communication. Online repositories […]

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Where are the Moderate Protestants? Reimagining Religious Identity in Boston and Bishkek

Posted in Pray, pay and obey by David Levy

While the debate continues over whether to try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant, he and his brother Tamerlan appear to have solidified that status in the American consciousness already, as evidenced by a recent magazine cover in which the Caucasian brothers are depicted with dark skin, thick eyebrows, and narrow, furtive eyes.  The reference to Islamic terrorism in the title apparently necessitated these phenotypic modifications, just as the resulting visages seem to intimate terrorism, even without proof that the Tsarnaevs’ goal in bombing the Boston Marathon was to terrorize as a means to a determinable end.  Such casual references to Islamic identity have polarized coverage between those commentators who seek the motives in the brothers’ origins, ethnicity, or religion, and those who point to the shooters in Aurora and Connecticut, asking why the Boston bombing alone is presented as terrorism motivated by “primordial” identities. Having this debate as a […]

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Honoring Moshe Gammer 1950-2013

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

Many readers will have already learned that a great historian of the Caucasus and Central Asia, Moshe Gammer, died last week.  Several scholars who knew him personally have written moving obituaries.  In case you missed them: His department colleague, Ehud R. Toledano, writes: Professor Gammer was a scholar of a rare kind, almost extinct in modern-day academia.  … his main contribution was no doubt to the history of Central Asia and the Caucasus during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here, he was a traditionalist, a true student of the late LSE Professor Elie Kedourie, under whose supervision he wrote his dissertation about Shamil’s revolt. Ron Sela of Indiana University considers a class he took with Gammar to have been: … a formative experience for me that clearly influenced the trajectory of my career. I still have all my course notes and I sometimes glance at them to see what was imparted […]

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Cooperation, Speculation, Uncertainty: Forecasting Central Eurasia’s Water Future

Posted in The Panarchy by Michael Igoe

Last September Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov drew international attention when he claimed that Tajikistan’s plans to build the world’s tallest (355m) “Rogun” hydroelectric dam could spark a regional water war. Karimov said, “Water resources could become a problem in the future that could escalate tensions not only in our region, but on every continent…I won’t name specific countries, but all of this could deteriorate to the point where not just serious confrontation, but even wars could be the result (Reuters).” Speculation over potential water conflict in Central Eurasia predates Karimov’s warning, and has increased in light of increasing concern over potential impacts of climate change for regional “hydropolitics.” But in this International Year of Water Cooperation, Karimov’s alarmist reaction to Tajikistan’s energy plans helps to frame an important consideration: How can concerns over the region’s future water availability helpfully be taken into account for present day planning and development? “Water […]

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KU/Fort Leavenworth Conference: “China and Russia: Architects of a New Global Order?”

Posted in The Bear and the Dragon in Central Asia by Bradley Jensen Murg

Last week, I had the good fortune to participate in the conference “China and Russia: Architects of New Global Order” organized by the Kansas University Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies (CREEES) and the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) at Fort Leavenworth. The wide spectrum of research presented (more on this in a moment) was well complimented by the diversity of panelists with academia, the Defense Department, and various thinks tanks all well represented. For those who were unable to make it to Lawrence, CREEES has quite helpfully posted a series of videos of the panel presentations as well as the subsequent Q&A periods (15 videos in all). The first panel of the day focused on Russia and China as architects of regional orders. Brian Carlson of Johns Hopkins walked us through the differing responses of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to three recent security crises, the variables explaining these […]

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Framing Central Asian Art…

Posted in Warp and Weft: Art & Power in Central Eurasia by Sarah Klump

At a time when Central Asia seems to have ominously emerged from obscurity into the western political consciousness as a “Middle East in Training,” it is worth considering how broader western audiences acquire information about Central Asia beyond the constructions of policy analysts and Borat. One enduring and traditional source is that of museums, whose explicit institutional intention is to put art and culture on display to create a specific narrative for consumption. In this context, this month’s post begins a recurrent look at recent and ongoing museum exhibitions of Central Asian art and artifacts with the intention of initiating an ongoing conversation about how knowledge of Central Asia is produced for the general western public through visual representation, and how that knowledge interacts with prevailing political paradigms. …As Islamic Art Once chief arbiters of orientalism, several major international museums in recent years have made efforts to reframe their Islamic collections […]

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“Developed Socialism” in the Periphery: Artemy Kalinovsky’s new research on Tajikistan during the Cold War period

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

Artemy M. Kalinovsky, Assistant Professor of East European Studies at the University of Amsterdam and author of A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan, was kind enough to chat with me regarding his new research about Soviet Tajikistan and experiences working in the archives.  We decided to separate his tale into two posts, so check back in a week or so for part II: “The Party is Not Over: Archival Adventures in Tajikistan.” “Basically, the idea is to look at how Tajik elites took Soviet ideas of modernization and implemented them locally.”  Kalinovsky’s continuing work in the Party Archives (as well as the State Archive of Tajikistan, the State Archive of the Russian Federation [GARF], and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History [RGASPI]) is part of a broader research project provisionally titled “Modernization in a Forgotten Corner: The Politics of Development in Soviet Tajikistan,” which is supported by a Veni […]

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In Central Asia, The Internet Is a Superior Good

Posted in Digital Mahalla by Cody Behles

In a recent study, Chyi and Yang found Americans consider the internet an economically inferior good to newspaper content and television coverage. In other words, given increased income Americans will favor newspapers and television as a news source over the internet. The study suggested that while people have no greater emotional attachment to any particular medium, a combination of presentation and ease of access makes print media and television a more favorable way to consume daily information. Print media and television are certainly not better quality sources of information. In fact Stuart Allan has argued effectively, most recently in a discussion of the development of the BBC online service, that to rebuke the citizen journalist or the amateur content creator in favor of refereed sources is to ignore trends and close off avenues of research and knowledge that scholarship or professional journalism might not explore. The argument that Information Communication […]

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Sorting out Sino-Russian Relations and Central Asia: 欢迎! Добро пожаловать! Welcome!

Posted in The Bear and the Dragon in Central Asia by Bradley Jensen Murg

Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow – only eight days after his installation as president of China, and his first foreign visit as Zhongnanhai’s new laoban (boss) - has resulted in extensive commentary concerning the current state of Sino-Russian ties, the implications of the “strategic partnership” for the United States, and myriad lists of historic and contemporary irritants which could either buttress or derail the relationship. The diversity of commentary and conclusions is certainly breathtaking, covering the entire spectrum of issues raised in the academic literature on the topic over the past decade. Some journalists and analysts seeking to explain Xi’s choice have pointed out the “positives,” namely the commonalities in national interests:  Russian diplomatic support for China in its conflict with Japan over the Diaoyutai; shared opposition to the policies of the Western states on global security, human rights and sovereignty questions; Chinese energy requirements and a new $30 billion “loan for […]

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Coburn, Congress & Austerity: Defunding Area Studies Research

Posted in Reposts, Revelations & Revolutions by Amanda E. Wooden

US federal defunding of academic research programs is a topic of keen interest to Central Eurasian studies scholars.  Laura Adams at Harvard recently published an insightful piece entitled, “The Crisis of US Funding for Area Studies,” in ASEEES’ (The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies) NewsNets.  Focusing on Title VI and Title VIII funding, she “lays out what the big picture is for U.S. government funding of area studies, and what we might be able to do to mitigate the negative effects of present and future budget cuts.” Combined fiduciary pressures are particularly troubling; together with Title VI and Title VIII reductions, our humanities and political science colleagues face targeted defunding.  NEH Chairman Jim Leach outlined the budgetary effects of sequestration in a February 28th press release: Preliminary estimates by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) indicate that sequestration will require a 5 percent reduction in funding […]

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Welcome Note

Posted in Pray, pay and obey by Aisalkyn Botoeva

Welcome to our co-authored blog column, Pray, Pay, and Obey, in which we will address issues and research related to the intersection of faith, power and wealth in Central Asia.  Our entries will cover topics ranging from the contested place of religion in national “identity” to the growing ethic of materialism among the region’s affluent classes, and ways that enthusiasts of Sharia-compliant entrepreneurship navigate competing interpretations of pious business practices.  The common thread running through our posts will be to highlight the ways in which social actors occupy the religious, economic, and political fields simultaneously, and bridge the logics of these fields in their actions. We feel that a blog column is a proper forum for discussing these issues along lines other than causal arguments that are standard within the social sciences.  While students of Sociology ourselves, we find that the demands for rigorous argumentation and substantiation inherent to scholarship […]

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History Scholarship Roundup: March 2013

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

Not a bad couple of months for new publications on Eurasian history. Whither the History of Afghanistan?: IJMES recently published a series of “state of the field”-style thought pieces about the history of Afghanistan based on conference proceedings (vol. 45, 2013: pp. 127-128).  Nile Green’s introductory article poses the fundamental question: “Do we need an autonomous field of Afghan history… or do both the transnational nature of the subject matter and the changing concerns of historical studies suggest that Afghan history would better develop within a broader regional framework?”  Christine Noelle-Karimi answers his question with an emphatic “no,” arguing that for much of its history the region “… is best understood in the context of the ‘Indo-Persian’ or ‘Persophone’ realm.”  This observation is equally true, it would seem, of those Central Asian territories north of the Amu Darya, though in practice even the post-Soviet ‘Stans are less academically homeless than […]

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The Panarchy: Welcome

Posted in The Panarchy by Michael Igoe

Welcome to this inaugural post of “The Panarchy,” a blog series that will explore research that examines the dynamic interaction of social and ecological systems in Central Eurasia. The blog series takes its name from conceptual developments in “resilience thinking,” a branch of scholarship concerned with the triggers and processes that compose growth, collapse, and transformation in interconnected economic, ecological, and social systems across scales. The notion of panarchy, as developed by Gunderson and Holling contrasts with rigid, top-down hierarchies, with clearly delineated relationships. Panarchy suggests processes guided by nested, adaptive cycles, in which change or crisis at one scale can trigger change at another, larger or smaller scale, often in unpredictable ways. This relationship offers a fitting conceptualization of the “cascades of change” that have rippled across Central Eurasia in the last decades, as well as of aspects of culture and ecology that have managed to persist in the […]

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Bactriana: A sort of Eurasian history beat

Posted in Bactriana by James Pickett

Welcome to Bactriana.  In the coming months your humble blogger will endeavor to cover developments in Eurasian history:  What new publications are on the horizon?  What is the latest intel on archives and research libraries in the region?  Which historiographical debates are catching fire?  How are classroom instruction and syllabi in the field evolving? The Greek term Bactriana (more commonly Bactria) refers to the swathe of settler colonies founded by Alexander the Great in northern Afghanistan, which persisted in the region as independent kingdoms and city-states for hundreds of years even after being cut off from the Seleucid Empire.  I chose the intentionally vague title to allow coverage of a wide variety of topics and also to hint at my own interests and research experience, which focus geographically on Turko-Persia and topically on Islam, particularly during the early modern and modern periods.  The Greco-Bactrian kingdoms are now little more than […]

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Welcome to The CESS Blog!

Posted in Reposts, Revelations & Revolutions by Amanda E. Wooden

The Central Eurasian Studies Society executive board is proud to begin this online communication venue for scholarship about the region. We will have six monthly blog columns about Central Eurasian studies scholarship from our regular contributors, listed on the right side of this home page.  Our first column blogs are Cory Behles’ “Digital Mahalla” and Sarah Dixon Klump’s “Warp and Weft: Art & Power in Central Eurasia“.  Four other columns will begin this month:  Aisalkyn Botoeva & David Levy’s, “Pray, pay and obey“; Bradley Jensen Murg’s “The Bear and the Dragon in Central Asia“; Michael Igoe’s “The Panarchy“; and James Pickett’s “Bactriana“.  Follow the tabs at the top (& left side-bar) to “Scholarly Resources”, an evolving list of “CESS Member Publications” and research-related “Announcements”. We invite guest blog proposals, field research reports, & photo essays.  Subscribe on email/RSS and follow us on Twitter (@CESS_news). Happy reading! The views expressed in this blog are […]

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The Battle over Stalin’s Statues and the Ascent of the Georgian Dream Coalition

Posted in Warp and Weft: Art & Power in Central Eurasia by Sarah Klump

The ascent of the Georgian Dream coalition over Mikheil Saakashvili’s pro-Western United National Movement in the country’s October 1 parliamentary elections has reignited the battle in Georgia over public monuments bearing the image of Josef Stalin, “the great son of the Georgian people.” These developments have inspired a fresh slew of panic-inducing headlines in western media, blending alarm over the ‘revival of the cult of Stalin’ with disappointment over the country’s ‘turn toward Russia.’ What recent research reveals, however, is that this sort of reverence for Stalin among Georgians is nothing new, and that the rebuilding of Stalin statues does not signify a shift in Georgian consciousness, political aspirations, or geopolitical orientation, but perhaps, rather, a new opportunity for democracy in the country. To understand how the image of Stalin is at work in Georgia today, one must distinguish between the different actors involved in its propagation or demolition, what […]

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Digital Mahalla

Posted in Digital Mahalla by Cody Behles

Welcome to the first edition of the “The Digital Mahalla” – a blog addressing themes and topics of digital scholarship in Central Asia. The explosion of research on Internet Communication Technology, trends in social media usage, web analytics, human-computer interaction, and other such topics has been embraced by all disciplines. Every day the web reveals new areas to explore, new websites to analyze, and enlightening perspectives generating new and exciting questions. In Central Asia digital content development over the decade has moved from a trickle to a torrent of people- from private companies to individual bloggers to citizen journalists to library patrons- flooding the web with new perspectives and opportunities to communicate. Every week I will present a topic related to digital scholarship in Central Asia that I believe is worthy of discussion. Sometimes, such as this week, it will be a topic that is often discussed in Central Asian […]

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