Versions of the Kyrgyz epos Manas have been collected and studied for over a hundred and sixty years. Reasons for this research have varied. Foreign scholars collected the first variants of stories connected to the legendary hero Manas and his descendents for linguistic purposes in the mid-nineteenth century.[i] As a Tsarist expedition made the first sound recording of a performance, connoisseurship of written variants appeared with an emerging class of Kyrgyz literati.[ii] Nationalistic interests of these local intellectuals, and the Soviet focus on folklore, coincided with the aim to produce a complete narrative. Post second world war political concerns led to the publication of a harmonized epic, with features deemed problematic removed.[iii] Throughout these periods, the extinction of the living oral tradition has frequently been predicted. In post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan (1991-), the resurgence of oral performances has been met with the frequent claim that ‘true manaschis’ (chïnïgï Manaschïlar), performers of the Manas epos capable of the traditional oral improvising, have been replaced by ‘manaschis by the book’ (jattama Manaschïlar), those who merely memorize a printed version.[iv] Wishing to examine this issue, in Fall 2017 a group of researchers connected to the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, responded to my initiative to collect and study new variants of the Manas epos.
Here’s a puzzle:
In Kunduz (now northern Afghanistan) the Friday sermon was read in the name of the ruling dynasty of Bukhara rather than the local Qataghan dynasts, at least during the 1850s. The Friday sermon (khuṭba) has been an Islamic symbol of sovereignty for over a thousand years. However, Bukharan troops had never set foot in Kunduz, nor had they extracted resources from that territory (at least during the reign of the Manghits, 1747-1920).
Those of us who devote our careers to the history of Islamic Central Asia frequently wonder why scholarly interest in the field remains low. A survey of publicly-available data supports this impression: of the relatively few scholars who self-identify as Central Asianists in the member directories of organizations such as MESA or AAS, only a handful indicate reading skills in pre-modern Arabic-script Turkic-language sources. That is, while there are many people with solid backgrounds in Russian, Persian, and Chinese sources, and some proficient in modern Turkic languages such as Uzbek, very few could conduct primary research in the language of Babur, Navai, and countless scribes: Chaghatay. Continue reading To Build Central Asian Studies, Invite People In: Teach More Chaghatay by Eric Schluessel, University of Montana
A review of the Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Центральный государственный архив Республики Казахстан / Қазақстан Республикасы Орталықмемлекеттік мұрағаты), Almaty, Kazakhstan. Continue reading From Dissertation Review: Jennifer Griffiths’ “Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan”
While in St. Petersburg on a recent research trip, I was intrigued to learn that Joe Ricci, a colleague from my Princeton cohort, is living in the city long term. After all, I knew Ricci as a scholar of Byzantine history, and Constantinople lies a rather long way from the Gulf of Finland, and Rome further still. What follows is the outcome of a lengthy discussion about steppe-sedentary dynamics, Late Roman history, and Soviet archaeology.
Continue reading Long Shadow of Herodotus: Joe Ricci on Ancient Rome’s own Perilous Frontier