Series Conclusion: Diversity, ethnicity, and mobility in modern Central Asia
Updated: Oct 11, 2022
It’s often remarked that academic interest in the history of Central Asia from outside of the region has surged in the past three decades. The content of this series is surely evidence that this increase in attention continues to bear fruit.
The series was conceived before Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine but written, edited and published after it. This made for a jarring experience. The series is packed full of themes and issues which read differently in the context of Russia’s war. The most obvious pertain to Russian imperialism, violence, and population displacement, but there are others: humanitarian aid, debt and debtors, knowledge and where it comes from. All seem more pressing and important now.
In the UK, we are witnessing tectonic shifts in university-level education that threaten to massively condense specialist Area Studies and Languages education. Pockets of research excellence need to be kept in contact with undergraduate-level education and made accessible to a public audience if they are to stand a better chance of survival. In our own small way this is what Peripheral Histories? seeks to achieve.
Like every other kind of conversation, the academic conversation has been greatly accelerated by digital technology and new methods of information dissemination. Like every other kind of conversation, the academic conversation hasn’t straightforwardly benefited from this acceleration. The bridges built between academic scholarship and social media – something of a raison d’etre for the Peripheral Histories? website – carry traffic going in both directions.
Free and open academic investigation is harder to pursue and communicate in the context of a fast-paced information environment full of stories of appalling suffering and brutality as well as ‘fake news’, misinformation and disinformation. Paradoxically, the scale and diversity of material available online lends itself to monomania and motivated reasoning.
Traditional research methods will also be challenged by onerous geopolitical conditions.
Nonetheless I think the series showcases some brilliant scholarship by historians doing diligent work in archives, with evidence, with innovative methodologies, and it does so in a digestible way. So, we hope to expand the Peripheral Histories? website and increase the range of contributors (get in touch!). History offers us the chance to think differently. Keenly and repeatedly it should be oblique to public debate because it is all the more competent to make a contribution when this is so.
Thanks to Hanna Matt for proposing the series and overseeing it so effectively.
Alun Thomas is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Staffordshire University. His work to date concerns the modern and contemporary history of Central Asia, particularly the early Soviet period.