Reviews

The Russian conquest of Central Asia brought with it new forms of knowledge that raised basic questions for local historians.  The modern map of the world, the notions of geological time and language families, of the ideas of nation and Progress all worked to undermine the epistemological bases of the old intellectual order.  The logic of their reformist project led the Central Asian Jadids to a re-conceptualisation of history, which had to be located in “real” time, proven through documentary evidence from “authoritative” sources, and put to the service of the nation.  If conversion to Islam were now located in historical time, then the nation could pre-exist Islam in time and its customs and traditions could begun to be separated from its Muslim identity.  The de-coupling of Islamic and ethnic identity began for the Jadids well before the revolution of 1917.  As to the historiography of the early Soviet period, it was driven by two interrelated concerns: the need to seek legitimacy for the new regime by discrediting the pre-Soviet order in Central Asia, and the need to (re)define Central Asian identity in the new age.  Very quickly, however, the ability to define the parameters of the debate on historiography passed from the hands of pre-revolutionary intellectuals into those of the Soviet regime.  In the 1920s, the study of local history and heritage (kraevedenie) was institutionalised by the state itself.  The unifying vision developed by the late Jadids was then challenged by a more particularistic discourse of ethnic nationalism which challenged the unifying vision of the Jadids’ Chaghatayism and the hegemonic role it automatically assigned to urban intellectuals.  The fate of Chaghatayism is indicative of the professionalisation of history in the Soviet period.  Ultimately, however, Soviet Marxism turned out not to be inimical to nationalist historiography.  Nationalist discourse had to remain within carefully set limits and accord with the notion of the “friendship of the peoples,” but national identities were never seen as antithetical to a common Soviet identity.  The notions of “ethnos” and “ethno-genesis” became fundamental building blocks of Soviet thinking on identities in the post-Stalin period, which saw the articulation of what might be called “Soviet national identities”: identities that were unabashedly nationalist but nevertheless sensitive to the political exigencies of the Soviet regime.  The subjects of these histories were not dynasties or even classes, but nations possessed of the will to unite.  Yet for all that, the expression of contemporary Uzbek nationalism owes a great deal to the discourse of Soviet nationalities policy, whence the Uzbek historical imagination today bears the seeds both of turn-of-the-century Muslim discourses and of the Soviet period.

The Redaction
CER: I-3.4.C-298