Histories of Central Asia is divided into three components: “Mobile Identities Through Time” by Shoshana Keller, “Islamic Cultural Movements” by Adeeb Khalid, and "The Built Environment," by Robert McChesney. We invite teachers and students of Central Asia, or anyone who is interested in incorporating information about Central Asia into their courses at any level, to use this site as a basis for lectures, discussions, classroom exercises, and research assistance. We hope that teachers of world history, Asian history, and Islamic history will find this site useful for expanding the scope of their work.
Histories of Central Asia by Shoshana Keller, ed. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Shoshana Keller is Professor of Russian and Eurasian history at Hamilton College. She is the author of To Moscow, Not Mecca: The Soviet Campaign Against Islam in Central Asia, 1917 - 1941 and articles on education, administration, women, and the economics of manual cotton picking in Soviet Uzbekistan.
Adeeb Khalid is the Jane and Raphael Bernstein Professor of Asian Studies and History at Carleton College. He is the author of Islam After Communism, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia, and Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Revolution, and Empire in the Early USSR .
Robert D. McChesney is Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and History at New York University. He is the author of Waqf in Central Asia: Four Hundred Years in the History of a Muslim Shrine, 1480 - 1889 and numerous other studies of sacred architecture.
I. Mobile Identities Through Time
Keller provides six sets of lecture materials that explore the concepts of mobility, identity, and mobile identity at various levels. These units provide extensive information on both the “Russian” and “Chinese” sides of Central Asia, and the ways in which Turkic, Persian, Russian, Mongol, and Chinese cultures have interacted to shape cultures in the region.
“Basic Concepts of Mobile Social and Political Structures” and “The Mongol Legacies for Modern Central Asia” focus on the broad concept of mobility, how mobility and territory have interacted in Eurasia, and on the Mongol roots of today’s Kazakh, Uzbek, and Uyghur societies.
“Oasis Kingdoms and Pastoral Nomads” and “Imperial Conquest and Central Asian Identities” discuss the complex and shifting interactions among Central Asian peoples from the 16th to the early 19th centuries, as the khanates of Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokand formed amid continually changing communities of Iranian- and Turkic-speaking merchants, farmers, and nomads. In the early 19th century Russian and Han Chinese encroachment added to the complexities of the region.
“Revolution, Modernity, and Identity: the Soviet Impact” and “Revolution, Modernity, and Identity: the Maoist Impact” continue the themes of the “Imperial Conquest” unit, and also deal with the enormous damage and the creation wrought by the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China. This is the crucial period when the five republics of Central Asia as we know them were formed.
II. Islamic Cultural Movements
Khalid writes on Islam and the enormous changes that Islamic cultures have been subjected to in modern Central Asia history. His focus is the territory of the former Soviet Union.
“Traditional Islamic Learning” and “Reform and Reformers” concern Islamic practice prior to 1917, particularly how religious understanding was produced and passed on from one generation to the next. He discusses the core texts of the madrasa curriculum, then turns to the intensifying debates over the utility of those texts as modern ideas about educational reform entered Central Asia with the Jadid movement of the early twentieth century.
“Soviet Policies Toward Islam” and “Islam in the Soviet Period” provide an overview of the USSR’s attempts to destroy Islam, along with all other “backward” religious systems, and its policies of control and accommodation when it became clear that Communism could not eradicate religion. Khalid includes extensive sections on “official” and “unofficial” Islamic study and practice that continued throughout the Soviet period, with links to primary documents from the government and government-supervised Islamic institutions.
“Post Soviet Islam” discusses the changed, and not-so-changed, religious landscape since 1991. Khalid also provides brief biographies of key figures in recent Islamic thought, and bibliographic essays on Chinese and Japanese literature concerning the region.
III. The Built Environment
McChesney discusses buildings, building materials, and the ways that Central Asians have arranged them to create a living environment. His text entails a discussion of ways of coping with Central Asia’s widely variable continental climate through the Mongol, Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet periods. He pays particular attention to the forcible creation of modern urban designs in Soviet Central Asia and Afghanistan in the twentieth century. This urban modernization caused enormous changes in the spatial relationships of families and communities.
He then gives us a comprehensive glossary of terms that included the material bases of buildings, like mud, brick, felt, and reeds, up to the modern materials of concrete, glass and steel. It also considers the kinds of dwellings that Central Asians created, such as villages, towns, and nomadic camps, gardens, religious structures, living structures, etc.