The Periphery (of a Periphery) Strikes Back: “On Khorezmian Connectivity” Workshop at the Austrian Academy of Sciences

From October 9-10 Christine Nölle-Karimi and Paolo Sartori hosted an international workshop “On Khorezmian Connectivity: Space, Mobility, Imagination” at the Institute of Iranian Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences.  This event was part of Sartori’s START project Seeing Like an Archive: Documents and Forms of Governance in Islamic Central Asia (18th – 19th Centuries), which comes hot on the heels of his previous international collaborative project.

Sartori’s challenge with the Seeing like an Archive project both in general and at this conference in particular is that historically Khorezm has been doubly marginalized as supposed the periphery of a periphery.  This project strives to turn that formulation on its head by leveraging uncharted historiographical territory to engage thematically similar research in neighboring fields.  “I would like to find a way to project a new way of doing Central Asian studies,” Sartori remarked during a discussion session.

Sartori Khorezm conference

Presentations at the workshop were wide-ranging and covered topics as diverse as irrigation, Sufism, slavery, archives, and state building.  Nevertheless, these topics revolved around the core theme of connectivity, which Sartori characterized thusly:

It makes more sense to me to start from the commonsensical observation that Khorezm existed as an entity even in times of severe economic crisis and that, at least from the second half of the eighteenth century, the Khivan rulers regarded the deserts around the oasis as integral and constitutive components of the khanate.  After all, why else would the Qongrats have bothered to launch military campaigns against the Tekkes in Khorasan or try to subdue the Qaraqalpaqs?  What I want to suggest, therefore, is that it would be more useful to ask ourselves how Khorezm could exist as a political entity, how it survived economically and what made the region a distinct cultural landscape in the face of its relative isolation.

When it came to defining precisely what he had in mind with the “connectivity” concept, Sartori situated his new project next to studies about Southeast AsiaYemen, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Sahara.  Sartori elaborated:

“I want to answer this question by adapting the concept of connectivity to material coming from Khorezm. Connectivity refers to a particular density of overlapping web of communications that produces the distinctive unity of a region in a situation of scarcity of resources and precarious ecological niches. As I want to use it, connectivity refers to the texture of the economic, social and cultural symbiosis of the local and the regional.”

The next workshop associated with Sartori’s Seeing like an Archive project will be: “Sharia in the Russian Empire,” December 11-12, 2014.