Reviews

Two prominent historians of pre-modern and early modern Central Asia (cf. Central Eurasian Reader 1 (2008), reviews No. 254-5, 272-3, 631) propose the first anthology of English translations (many of which original) of Central Asian historical sources. This collection of texts is designed primarily to complement an introductory study of Central Asia’s history. Departing from the observation that the outpouring of attention for Central Asia has underlined the urgent need for new pedagogical resources written as far as possible by specialists of the region, the author have continued and enlarged the Soviet tradition of publication of Materialy po istorii . . .. They propose a selection of extracts that provides the readers with a sense of the richness and diversity of the materials authored in and about Central Asia from the ninth to the nineteenth century. So doing, they have endeavoured to draw extracts from multiple genres of sources, both narrative and documentary (they include inscriptions, biographical dictionaries, geographical surveys, court chronicles, administrative manuals, memoirs, diplomatic correspondence, legal documents, hagiographies, travel literature, poetry, and more). This choice must illustrate for the reader that the study of history depends on analysis of a combination of sources, each genre having its own strengths and weaknesses. Another of the authors’ aims has been to represent the different geographical and cultural parts of vast and diverse Central Asia. However, their main goal, which explains the chronological framework of the collection of extracts, has probably been to demonstrate the significance of studying Central Asia’s history within the framework of the study of the world of Islam. This demonstration is an explicit reaction against the fact that “much of the recent scholarship on Central Asia exhibits an unfortunate tendency to approach the region and its history with very little knowledge of Islamic history (p. 3).” To which could be replied that locating the lower chronological limit of their collection at the Russian conquest of Khiva in 1873, the author do not really contribute to raise the interest of the huge majority of Central Asian studies, which are currently over-dominated by specialists of contemporary matters, in history as a whole, and in historical methodology. Perhaps the extension of this chronological lower limit to the late Tsarist period, if not to the whole Soviet period, both objects of history served by a number of accessible sources ― both written and oral ― in a wide range of languages, would have nuanced the classical ‘Orientalist’ aspect of the undertaking, and enforced the project’s overall credibility among a wider audience. This said, it remains to underline the extreme care with which this beautifully edited book has been elaborated, and its tremendous interest for students and scholars in Central Asian history. The volume has been organised chronologically, according to the most usual periodisation, so that instructors may use it alongside a textbook. Each of the six parts (Central Asia in the Early Islamic Period; Encounter with the Turks; The Mongol Empire; Timur and the Timurids; Central Asia in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; Central Asia in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries) is introduced by a short essay that draws attention to the most significant developments of each period. Every translated extract is preceded by a few paragraphs detailing the historical context of its authorship. No doubt, such a publication can only fill the expectations of its designer, viz. encouraging further inquiry into the fascinating history of Central Asia.

The Redaction
CER: II-3.1.A-98