This is the first significant history of mediaeval Inner Asia since the work by Vasilii Bartol’d. The second volume (the first being Denis Sinor’s Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia) of the Cambridge History of Inner Asia presents twenty contributions written by well-established scholars and develops two historiographical theses: the Mongol creation of mediaeval Central Asia; a longer periodisation of the Middle Age.
Peter Golden’s article “Inner Asia c. 1200” (pp. 9-25) describes the complex human geography of the area (Volga-Ural, Qipchaq, Turkistan, Mongolia). Peter Jackson’s “The Mongol Age in Eastern Inner Asia” (26-45) recalls the main stages of the Mongol conquest in terms of factors rather than facts. In “The Mongols in Central Asia from Chinggis Khan’s Invasion to the Rise of Temür: the Ögödei and Chaghadaid Realms” (46-66), Michal Biran details the political history of Central Asia under the Mongols and shows how political instability paradoxically shaped the region. Based somehow on the same paradox, István Vásáry’s paper “The Jochid Realm: The Western Steppe and Eastern Europe” (67-85) deals with the other side of the Mongol Empire.
In his chapter on the “Institutional Development, Revenues and Trade” (89-108), Arsenio Peter Ramirez discusses the socio-economic situation in the different Mongol khanates in the light of global processes. Peter Golden’s “Migrations, Ethnogenesis” (109-19) assesses the impact of the Mongol expansion on the human geography of Central Asia. Devin DeWeese’s “Islamisation of the Mongol Empire” (120-34) reassesses another impact, that of Islam in Ilkhanid Iran, the Golden Horde, and the Chaghadai ulus. In “Mongols as Vectors for Cultural Transmission” (135-54), Thomas Allsen lists the various “objects” ― people, texts, goods, cultural resources ― which circulated in Inner Asia thanks to specific Mongol institutions.
Regarding “The Eastern Steppe: Mongol Regimes after the Yüan (1368-1636)” (157-81), Veronika Veit explains how “the steppe became periphery and the centre of power shifted to the sedentary areas.” A comparable phenomenon is described in Beatrice Forbes Manz’ article “Temür and the Early Timurids to c. 1450” (182-98). Stephen Dale’s “The later Timurids c. 1450-1526” (199-217) shows that the Timurid Renaissance is the cultural expression of this geopolitical shift ― here Babur’s autobiography appears as the metaphor of mediaeval Central Asian history.
As for the steppe world, in “Uzbeks, Qazaqs and Turkmens” (221-36), Yuri Bregel details the situation of the main nomadic groups from the mid-fourteenth to the early eighteenth century. In “The Western Steppe: Volga-Ural Region, Siberia and the Crimea” (137-59), Allen J. Frank sheds light on the destiny of hordes (Golden, Noghai, Great) and khanates (Kazan, Siberian, Crimean, etc.) after the disintegration of Chinggisid political unity. Equally enlightening is James Millward’s contribution on “Eastern Central Asia (Xinjiang): 1300-1800” (260-76), a long period at the end of which a pax Manjurica is discernable between 1760 and 1820. Robert McChesney’s “The Chinggisid restoration in Central Asia: 1500-1785” (277-302) argues that the Mongol influence on late mediaeval Central Asia is visible in political practices and conceptions introduced by the Chinggisids centuries before. In “The Western Steppe: The Volga-Ural Region, Siberia and the Crimea under Russian Rule” (303-30), Christian Noack distinguishes two temporalities: the rapid conquest by Tsarist Russia and the slow puppetisation of Chinggisid sovereignty.
The last part of the book covers the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Nicola Di Cosmo’s article on “The Qing and Inner Asia: 1636-1800” (333-62) identifies four phases in the Qing expansion: the creation of Banners and the Lifan Yüan ― a crucial institution; the submission of the Kalkhas; the control of Tibet; and the conquest of Eastern Turkistan. In “The Qazaqs and Russia” (363-79), Allen J. Frank explains the integration of the Qazaqs into the Russian Empire in three stages: the intense commercial activity on the steppe; the settlement of the steppe by the Russian subjects; and the transformation of Qazaq Islamic life. A similar ― actually, linked ― tendency towards an Islamic revival is analysed by, again, Allen J. Frank in “Russia and the Peoples of the Volga-Ural Region: 1600-1850” (380-91). The final chapter “The New Uzbek States: Bukhara, Khiva and Khoqand: c. 1750-1886” (392-411), written by Yuri Bregel, clarifies the ethnic and political landscape of the three khanates until the Russian conquest, and discusses the various episodes of this conquest.
For the sake of controversy, it should be said that, despite all its qualities, this new opus of the prestigious Cambridge History series raises a disturbing problem: The area covered by the Cambridge History of Inner Asia is larger than, for instance, the whole of Europe; the period extends from 1200 to 1886, that is nearly seven hundred years. As a comparison, the Cambridge History of Japan spans six volumes, with an average of 800 pages per volume; the mediaeval part of the famous Histoire de la Belgique by Henri Pirenne contains 484 pages. Does it mean that, for the Cambridge University Press ― of course, neither the editors nor the contributors are in question ―, Inner Asia is the equivalent of, with all due respect, Belgium?