Seminar: Yue Shi on Semirechie between empires


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vernyi uezd

Karakol gorge, early 20th c.


Some of you may remember our earlier post about Yue Shi, the PhD student from Georgetown our Department has sponsored in view of his research in the Almaty Central State Archive of the Kazakhstan Republic (TsGARKaz).

Yue Shi will be back to Astana and he will present on his research results. Please join his talk on:

The Seven Rivers: Economy, Ethnicity and Empire in the Central Asian Frontier of the Qing and the Russian Empire, 1860s-1910s.

Thursday 20 April 2017

from 4pm

room 8.322B


Semirech’e, a region which centers on the city Vernyi (today Almaty), lies between the Steppe provinces and Turkestan in the period of late Imperial Russia (1860s-1910s). To the east, it adjoins the Yili Valley, the administrative and military center of Qing’s northwestern frontier. The local history of this geographically and strategically significant region offers an access to observe the dynamics among imperial frontier finance, ethnic policies and cross-border trade in the Central Asian frontier of the Russian Empire. The rich collection of documents in the Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan lays the foundation of this research project. The presentation will demonstrate how archival sources contribute to a better understanding of the relation between the Russian Empire and its Central Asian frontier. 




Yue Shi is a fourth-year Ph.D candidate from Georgetown University (U.S.). He studied for his BA (2011) in Urdu Language and Literature at Peking University, and MA (2013) in History at Georgetown University. He is interested in the comparison of the Qing and Russian rule in Central Asia. In the academic year 2016-2017, under the sponsorship of Nazarbayev University, he conducts research trips to archives and libraries in Kazakhstan for the dissertation topic “The Seven Rivers: Economy, Ethnicity and Empire in the Central Asian Frontier of the Qing and the Russian Empire, 1860s-1910s.


Seminar: Totaro on oil production in Kazakhstan


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oil industry

The History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies Department is pleased to invite you on

Tuesday 18 April 2017

from 1pm

room 8.105

to a research talk by Maurizio G. Totaro, visiting PhD student at NU/SHSS, on the topic:

“Producing Oil Regions in Kazakhstan: An Historical Overview”


Since independence, the story goes, oil and gas have shaped Kazakhstani political institutions and economic pattern, and conditioned the social expectations of the country’s population. Concomitantly, “petro-state”, “oil curse”, and “Dutch disease” have become the theoretical catch-words to identify what the country is, or is pathologically affected by. Often accompanied by sensationalist tones and normative intents, such theoretical paradigms tend to uncritically reduce the country to oil, and oil to money. Moreover, they rarely take time to explore the historical trajectories of the country’s oil producing regions, rather focusing on the central echelons of state power.

With this talk I would like to take a step back in time, and suggest another route to explore the multiple relations that have come to shape the Kazakhstani oil complex. Focusing on the oil producing regions of Atyrau and Mangystau, I will overview how oil has become, since the end of the 19th century, part of these regions’ socio-material, imaginative, and political landscapes, following a non-linear historical trajectory. Giving particular attention to the Soviet era, I will explore how the two regions became oil regions in popular imaginations and discourses, and through political interventions. The first part will concentrate on the oilfields around the Emba river from the late Imperial years to WWII, whilst the second part will summarize the geographical shift that occurred with the development of Mangystau’s oilfields in the 1960s; the differential incorporation of this region into the Soviet economy, and the role that the region had in exemplifying the heights  of late Soviet modernity and its contradictions. Finally, in the conclusions, I consider how Soviet legacies and contemporary conjunctures concurred in shaping the restructuring of the oil complex in the two regions, and beyond, during the 1990s.

The speaker:

Maurizio G. Totaro is Marie Curie PhD Fellow at the Department of Conflict and Development Studies, University of Ghent. He holds a BA from the University of Bologna and an MSc from SOAS, University of London. His current dissertation, provisionally titled “Viscous Matter: Oil, Territory, and Subjectivity in Mangystau, Kazakhstan”, centres on the imaginaries, practices, perceptions and experiences of oil extraction in the region. Mr Totaro is visiting PhD students at Nazarbayev University, SHSS.

Seminar: Charlton-Stevens on race in India and Burma



Anglo-Burmese family (1904) [link]

The History, Philosophy and Religious Studies Department is pleased to announce a research seminar by 
Uther Charlton-Stevens
on Monday 10th April
from 5.30pm
in room 8.322B
All welcome!
Ascribing, asserting and changing designations for mixed race groups in South Asia and Burma: A case study in ethnic group formation and boundary construction
European mercantile activity and imperialism in Asia was responsible for the creation of several mixed race populations of European and Asian descent. Attitudes towards interracial relationships varied among the colonial powers, between different time periods or phases of colonial expansion, and among different colonies of the same colonial power. Evolving attitudes to ‘the other’, including the growth of so-called ‘scientific racism’ in the latter half of the 19th Century, contributed to the structuring of divergent so-racial hierarchies and the proliferation of a variety of categories for different ethnic groups. As the work of the sociologist Andreas Wimmer in Ethnic Boundary Making (2013, OUP) suggests, the creation of ethnic groups in distinction to one another involves the construction and policing of boundaries between groups as well as dynamic responses which transgress or contest those boundaries in various ways. Wimmer argues against what he calls ‘radical constructivism’ as well as ethnic essentialism, the former characterised as a ‘Barthian World’ and the latter as a ‘Herderian World’. By contrast, a Wimmerian World makes space for the existence of both alternatives as empirical realities, as ethnic groups are generally Barthian but can become more Herderian in response to cultural differentiation and fostering of a cohesive group identity in response to harder boundaries and over the course of longer periods of divergent development. The overlapping and intertwined mixed race peoples of colonial India and Burma had variously been known as ‘half-castes’, East Indians, Indo-Britons, Eurasians, Anglo-Indians, and Anglo-Burmans, amongst other designations. The case studies here presented of their divergent trajectories at the points of Burma’s constitutional separation from India in 1935 and during the independence of the two nations in the 1940s, provide an ideal example of the importance of categories and socio-racial boundaries to ethnic group formation.
Uther Charlton Stevens holds a Master’s Degree from the London School of Economics, and a D.Phil in History from the University of Oxford. His first book, Anglo-Indians and Minority Politics in South Asia: Race, Boundary Making and Communal Nationalism is forthcoming from Routledge. He is currently teaching at Volgograd State University.

Public presentation of History capstone theses


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NU students, Faculty, and staff are invited to the public presentation of our senior students’ capstone theses in History.

Our students have been working hard, including in Almaty archives: this is a way to give them feedback on their last drafts and to celebrate their achievements.

It is also an opportunity to learn more about the History program (major & minor) at NU.

Please come on

Tuesday 11 April 2017

from 6pm

room 8.322B

to listen to:

Yerbekulan Dosmakhambet

War with no boundaries: Soviet POWs in Europe

Galiya Khassenkhanova

Evacuation and Kazakhstani film production during WWII


*Light refreshments will be served*

NU SHSS Faculty members express solidarity to EUSp colleagues


European University in St. Petersburg – street view

We, the professors and instructors of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of Nazarbayev University, are writing to express our support for our colleagues at the European University of St. Petersburg. The high standards of education and research at European University are well known both in the post-Soviet sphere, and throughout the world. It can be stated without exaggeration that, since the university’s establishment, our colleagues at EUSP have developed one of the most significant spheres of growth in the humanities and social sciences in Russia. The professors of EUSP are internationally recognized experts in history, sociology, anthropology, political science and other fields. We share the goals and values of our colleagues at EUSP, including academic freedom, intellectual independence, and engagement with the global intellectual community. Like the European University in St. Petersburg, Nazarbayev University in Astana strives to develop higher education within the post-Soviet space to meet the highest international standards. For this reason, our partnership with European University is of critical importance. Moreover, this partnership has already taken concrete form. It is a great honor for us that one of our graduates is now continuing his education within the walls of the European University.

We believe that any decision regarding the future of EUSP should be informed by the university’s excellent academic reputation, international recognition, and importance for Russian education and scholarship. We, the faculty of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of Nazarbayev University, would like to express our support for EUSP at this difficult time. We hope that the officials who determine the fate of this institution will take our support into consideration, and make their decision for the benefit of Russian education.

Преподаватели Школы гуманитарных и социальных наук   Назарбаев университета поддерживают своих коллег из Европейского университета Санкт-Петербурга

Профессорско-преподавательский состав Школы гуманитарных и социальных наук Назарбаев университета выражает поддержку своим коллегам из Европейского университета Санкт-Петербурга. Высокий образовательный и научный уровень Европейского университета широко известен как на постсоветском пространстве, так и во всем мире. За годы существования университета нашим коллегам удалось создать, без преувеличения, одну из самых значимых “точек роста” гуманитарных и социальных наук в России и СНГ. Преподаватели университета являются международно признанными экспертами в истории, социологии, антропологии, политологии и других областях. Нас связывают с Европейским университетом общность целей и ценностей, среди которых академическая свобода, интеллектуальная независимость и вовлеченность во всемирное  научное и образовательное пространство. Как и Европейский университет в Санкт-Петербурге, Назарбаев университет в Астане прикладывает усилия для развития высшего образования на постсоветском пространстве, чтобы оно соответствовало самым высоким международным требованиям. Поэтому партнерство с Европейским университетом является для нас критически важным. И это партнерство уже приобрело конкретные формы: один из наших студентов продолжает свое образование в стенах этого учебного заведения, что является предметом нашей гордости и радости.

Мы считаем, что при принятии любых решений, связанных с будущим университета, следует прежде всего брать в учет его высокую академическую репутацию, международное признание и значимость для российского образования и науки. В этот сложный период коллектив Школы гуманитарных и социальных наук Назарбаев университета шлет своим коллегам в Европейском университете слова теплой поддержки и выражает надежду, что чиновники, решающие сегодня судьбу Европейского университета, примут их к сведению и разрешат противоречия в пользу российского образования.


Nikolay Tsyrempilov

Gwen McEvoy

Elliott Bowen

Daniel Scarborough

Hélène Thibault

Philippe Forêt

David Hammerbeck

Alexander Morrison

Uli Schamiloglu

Andrey Filchenko

Nurlan Kabdylkhak

Alima Bissenova

Kyungmin Baek

Victoria Thorstensson

James Nikopoulos

Mwita Chacha

Meiramgul Kussainova

Irina Kirysheva

Daniel Beben

Gabriel McGuire

Zbigniew Wojnowski

Christina Pugh

Erika Alpert

Siegfried Van Duffel

Beatrice Penati

Mihnea Capraru

Liz Mount

Caress Schenk

Alexei Trochev

History Reading Circle: Morrison on the Russian conquest of Semirechie


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Gen.-Lt. G.A. Kolpakovskii

The History Reading Circle meets on 4 April 2017 at 1pm to discuss a chapter of Alexander Morrison‘s book (in progress) on the Russian conquest of Central Asia.

The chapter in question is titled:

From Ayaguz to Almaty – The Russian conquest of Semirechie, 1853-1881

New publication by Bissenova (NU, Anthropology) and Medeuova (ENU)


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The Kazakhstan (before: KSSR) Academy of Sciences in Almaty.

You may remember about a paper by our colleague Alima Bissenova and Kulshat Medeuova (ENU) we discussed at the History Reading Circle in September 2016…

Now the paper has been published by Ab Imperio, 4/2016, pp. 207-255 and is available to read online here.

The paper is titled: Давление метрополий и тихий национализм академических практик  (“The pressure of the metropole and the silent nationalism of academic practices”).


The article reviews the recurrent cycles of wholesale modernization of Kazakh culture over the last century to argue the futility of policies based on complete eradication of the previous cultural code. Putting the main focus on the sphere of education, particularly at university level, the authors compare the situation at the turn of the twentieth century, during the Early Soviet period, and after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The ruthless criticism of the traditional cleric culture by Muslim reformers (the Jadids), the subsequent assault on them as not modern and radical enough by Soviet educators, and the dismissive attitude to Soviet cultural and educational standards by government managers in modern Kazakhstan have had profound structural parallels. Their radicalism notwithstanding, these reforms were securing Kazakhstan’s role as a periphery of some external center of “true knowledge”, and thus its essentially colonial status. The logic of modernization understood as embracing some complete cultural sphere from elsewhere made any local knowledge (including national identity) synonymous to backwardness. This started a vicious circle: any successful intellectual had to refute any national cultural legacy, thus making national culture incompatible with modernity by definition. The authors discover the persistence of cultural practices behind the fiery rhetoric of all cultural revolutions in modern Kazakh history, which they call the “quiet nationalism of academic practices”. They use the case of Soviet academy to demonstrate the effect of hybridization of the nationalist discourse within the Soviet institutions, and thus the reality of accommodating tradition within modern culture. They conclude that local culture, despite being pushed to the “backyard of modernity,” has shown a remarkable capacity to reproduce itself and influence the parameters and the direction of the modernization project at all periods. Therefore, rather than fighting the “quiet nationalism of academic practices”, a truly postcolonial modernizing project should explicitly embrace them.

Seminar: Khalid on the Russian Revolution and Muslim Culture


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“In Bukhara”, cartoon from Molla Nasreddin (1907)

The History programme in HPRS is happy to host the talk by

Adeeb Khalid (Carleton College, USA)

A Revolution of the Mind:

Contests over Muslim Culture in the Age of the Russian Revolution

Friday 3 March 2017 at 4pm

room 8.154


The years after the Russian revolution were a period of great cultural effervescence in the Muslim communities of the Russian empire. Energized by a combination of hope and desperation, intellectuals introduced new forms of literature and poetry and visual culture, and new ways of thinking about community. This new culture was rebellious, for it featured numerous revolts—against convention and tradition, the authority of age, against Islam itself. In this paper, I will describe how this revolution in culture transpired in what became Uzbekistan. I will trace its roots in longer term projects of reform that predated the Russian revolution but were radicalized by it. Absolutely central to it was the idea of the nation, which had arrived in Central Asia before 1917; Bolshevism and its rhetoric of class were of far smaller significance. Paying attention to the national dimension of this cultural revolution, I argue, allows us to distinguish between the Russian revolution and Bolshevism, and to seek other comparative contexts for it. I will offer one such context, that of the state-driven modernization efforts in the late Ottoman Empire/early republican Turkey and in Iran.

On our guest:

Adeeb Khalid is Jane and Raphael Bernstein Professor of Asian Studies and History at Carleton College in Minnesota, USA. His research interests center on the history of the sedentary societies of Central Asia from the time of the Russian conquest of the 1860s to the present. He is particularly interested in the transformations of culture and identity as a result of historical change. The fate of Islam under Tsarist and Soviet rule has occupied a central place in his research. He is the author of three books: The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia (University of California Press, 1998), Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia (University of California Press, 2007), which won the 2008 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies; and Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR (Cornell UP, 2015), which won the2016 Reginald Zelnik Prize of the American Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

History Reading Circle: Beben on the Ismaili tradition


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Ismaili gathering, Badakhshan (source: BBC)

The next meeting of the History Reading Circle will take place on

28 February 2017, 1pm

We will be discussing a draft paper by Dr Daniel Beben, titled:

The Kalām-i pīr and Its Place in the Central Asian Ismāʿīlī Tradition.

If you are interested, please contact Dr Daniel Beben himself.

In lieu of an abstract, here is the first introductory paragraph of the paper:

This paper offers a study of the Kalām-i pīr, a fundamental text on Ismāʿīlī philosophy and doctrine preserved among the Ismāʿīlīs of the Badakhshān region of Central Asia, which is attributed to the renowned eleventh-century Ismāʿīlī philosopher and missionary Nāṣir-i Khusraw. I present here an argument for revising the prevailing interpretation of the text’s origins, first presented by the Russian émigré orientalist Wladimir Ivanow, who judged the Kalām-i pīr to be a “forgery” committed by the sixteenth-century Ismāʿīlī author Khayrkhwāh Harātī, who plagiarized the work of an earlier author and in turn falsely ascribed his work to Nāṣir-i Khusraw. Ivanow concluded that while the text has value as a specimen of Ismāʿīlī doctrinal and philosophical writing, the attribution to Nāṣir-i Khusraw is merely fanciful and unrelated to the work, and hence may be disregarded for the purpose of scholarly analysis. In recent years, however, multiple new manuscripts of the work, as well as a range of related materials have come to light, suggesting the need for a thorough re-evaluation of the authorship and dating of the text, as well as a better appreciation of its reception history and significance within the Ismāʿīlī tradition of Badakhshān.

In this paper I will demonstrate that Khayrkhwāh Harātī almost certainly had no role in the development or transmission of the Kalām-i pīr, and that the production of the text should be dated not to the sixteenth century, but rather to the eighteenth century. Furthermore, I argue that the pseudo-attribution of the work to Nāṣir-i Khusraw is not merely incidental to the text, but rather is central to understanding the interpretation and significance of the book among the Ismāʿīlīs of Central Asia. Its development and attribution must be considered within the context of the social and religious history of Badakhshān in the eighteenth century, an era that saw an energetic expansion of the Ismāʿīlī mission (daʿwa) in the region and the elaboration of a competitive hagiographical and pseudepigraphical tradition connected with Nāṣir-i Khusraw. More broadly, the re-evaluation of the Kalām-i pīr presented in this paper points to the need for a revision of the broader conceptual framework by which we understand both the legacy of Nāṣir-i Khusraw and the historical development of the Ismāʿīlī daʿwa in Central Asia.

Joint ENU-NU-KarGU seminar: The October Revolution and Kazakhstan


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The History Faculty, Chair of History of Kazakhstan, of the Eurasian National University “Gumilev” (Astana),

the History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies department of Nazarbayev University (Astana)

and the Centre for Ethno-Cultural and Historical-Anthropological Research of Karaganda State University “Buketov” (Karaganda)

organise a Joint Methodological Seminar on

The October Revolution and Kazakhstan: Reconsidering Research Paradigms

7 March 2017, from 12am

at: Eurasian National University “Gumilev”, Astana, 11 Pushkin St., Korpus FIT & History Faculty, room 324.


Zauresh G. Saktaganova (KarGU), “October 1917 and Kazakhstan: Historiographical Discourse”

Arailym S. Musagalieva (ENU), “New sources for the history of the Red Terror in Kazakhstan”

Alexander Morrison (NU), “The 1916 Uprising in Central Asia and Russia”


Tlegen S. Sadykov, Dean of the History Faculty, ENU

Beatrice Penati (NU)

Special guest of the seminar: Adeeb Khalid (Carleton College)

Very special thanks, on our side, to our colleagues Daniel Scarborough and Nikolay Tsyrempilov for taking the lead in this initiative – and for the leaflet, which you can download here.