Monday, November 11, 2013

Dissertation Planning

As my prospectus defense approaches, I have been focusing more on the actual layout and content of my doctoral dissertation. The pain and stress of my Russian History exams are passed, though my CEUS exams are looming off in the not-too-distant future. Now seems as good a time as any to try and write a thumbnail sketch of my research.

My prospectus is also carrying some extra water as trying to prepare me for my CEUS exams, which are written rather than oral like my History exams, and are more in line with my research going forward. This is also good as it is forcing me to come to terms with the big questions, the established research, and the definition of the terms in my work.

My prospects begins in this way, and comments are welcome:

            There are few episodes in the history of Kazakhstan better known among that country’s citizens than the Bare Footed Flight, when a military force of Zunghars invaded the ethnic homeland of the Kazakhs, killing many, enslaving more, and forcing the fleetest to leave behind relatives and property. Details relating to this event are thin on the ground, but the consequences inflicted on the refugees’ neighbors loom somewhat larger in the historical records of the neighbors of the Kazakhs and Zunghars in Russia, China, and the Khanates of Central Asia. The survivors fled before the invaders in several directions, north and south, but always to the west away from the lands of the Zunghars. The consequences of this catastrophe, little known outside of Kazakhstan, in turn affected the economy and political fates of the Central Asian Khanates, the Russian and Qing (Chinese) Empires, and eventually the Zunghars themselves. Historians writing on the relations of China and Russia have only recently taken stock of the struggles of the nomadic entities on their borders, Zunghar, Kazakh, or otherwise.[1]
My dissertation approaches the Bare Footed Flight from two angles: the longevity of the narrative, and the historical impact of these little known events outside the relatively closely defined sandbox of Kazakh national history. Regarding the first task, the importance of the Bare Footed Flight to a national narrative within Kazakhstan predates independence in 1991 and the rise of the polity in the area after 1920. Folklore and literature of the 19th century saw changes in script and ideology in the 20th century, but creative work in Kazakhstan continued to call the audience’s attention to the terrible crucible of Kazakh heroism and righteous revenge in defense of their homeland in the early eighteenth century. Most recently, both the nationalized and private film industries of Kazakhstan have produced multi-million dollar films dramatizing these same events. What happened in the early 1720s helped define Kazakh national history and national identity during the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and continues to influence the present. The narrative warped and cracked, shrank and grew during the policy changes sometimes labeled “nationality policy” during the roughly seventy years of Soviet control.[2]  
Regarding the second task of this dissertation, this series of historical events on the fringe of the Russian and Qing Empires involving no more than two relatively weak and globally unimportant nomadic polities cast a long shadow on the interconnected history of the region, including that of present-day Mongolia, Xinjiang, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. While the historical research centers specifically on several historical figures, their actions took place in a wide theater of political, military, economic, and religious import. Rather than write the history of simply the last great nomadic powers in Eurasia, this research will showcase the vital interplay between “settled” and “nomad,” between those labeled “warrior” and “trader,” between Cossack, Qazaq, and Kazakh. In the process, a careful reading and critique of contemporary primary and secondary sources regarding the Bare Footed Flight will include not only archival sources, but also the published works of such Kazakhs as Chokan Valikhanov (1835-1865) and Mukhamedzhan Tynyshpaev (1879-1938).
To begin the study of these events, I will challenge the degree to which the current collective memory indicates an uninterrupted continuation of a centuries-old remembrance enshrined in legend and song. Despite the fact that the Bare Footed Flight affected an arguably small portion of the nomads of the steppe now called Kazakhs, these events have captivated the imagination of the Kazakhs of Kazakhstan. What caused this narrative to replace others of devastation and desperation at the hands of their non-Zunghar neighbors? What role did Tynyshpaev play and how did his own background affect his construction of the tale of the Bare Footed Flight? Nationality is a significant portion of this issue—how does the lack of a modern Zunghar nation, following the Qing Empire’s destruction of the Zunghar state in the 1750s, affect the national history of the Kazakhs? What does this public expression of Kazakhstan’s history tell us about the people of the region and their collective memory?
            My research will answer these questions through study of the primary source documents available in regional collections, contemporary with the Bare Footed Flight and those pertaining to the writing of the history by Valikhanov and Tynyshpaev. I will expand the current historiography of the events of the Bare Footed Flight. Particularly of interest are the diaries and notes of ethnographers active during the time of Tynyshpaev, letters and correspondence contemporary with the events, and the city histories prevalent in cities like Sayram.[3] In addition to studying how Tynyshpaev wrote the story of these events the way he did, the drive of my dissertation will be to explain when, where, and how this narrative survived and flourished—and when and where it did not. The causes of these discrepancies will inform work on the formation of nationalism and inspire efforts to push beyond the nation-state as a container or methodology in history.
            This project represents multiple areas of educational and foreign policy concerns regarding Kazakhstan. Possessing a centralized national educational system, the government of Kazakhstan’s cultivation of its history and official cultural expressions occurs not at the local level, but at the level of the national or international stage. The government of Kazakhstan also strongly influences the creation of prose and poetry as during the Soviet Union. In other words, the leadership of the country has sanitized and “corrected” the stories surrounding the Bare Footed Flight. In the various narratives of the Zunghar oppression and the resulting exodus, the roles played by various factions within the Kazakhs and those played by neighboring people are largely ahistorical and indicative of the environment of their creation.
I have been fortunate to have ample experience with the institutions and cultures of Kazakhstan and the former Soviet Union through my Peace Corps experience (2005-2007) and an IREX IARO intensive Kazakh language fellowship in 2009. The personal and professional connections I have made in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia will serve me well during my time overseas.
My graduate research since matriculating at Indiana University in 2008 has focused on Kazakhstan and the Bare Footed Flight. My master’s thesis marked my first entry into a serious discussion of selected primary sources and their historiographical legacy down to the present day as manifested in history textbooks, songs, novels, and government-sponsored cinema projects. I have prepared for this project for several years with the help of Professor Ron Sela, my dissertation advisor. Involved since the early stages of my project, Prof. Sela has encouraged my research and has guided my coursework to include training in the necessary languages and familiarity with the sources necessary. My master and doctoral coursework included area studies courses with Prof. Sela and others at Indiana University, including courses in the Kazakh and Chaghatay languages, the literary language of the related part of Central Asia, courses in the ethnic and Islamic history of Central Asia, and one course specifically designed to fill gaps in my project relating to the Oirats and Zunghars with specialist in Mongol history, Professor Christopher Atwood. Professor Hiroaki Kuromiya has guided my work in Russian history, including a research paper on the life and writings of Mukhamedzhan Tynyshpaev in the fall of 2012, which I presented at two conferences in 2013. It is thanks to my professors at IU that I have been able to make scholarly connections with my overseas affiliations and I look forward to working with them in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Due to my request for funds supporting my dependents, I would add some information regarding my wife and daughter who will accompany me during my research. My wife Teresa served three years in rural Kazakhstan with the Peace Corps. She is conversant in Kazakh and Russian and excited for the opportunity to return to Kazakhstan.
            I wrote my master’s thesis on the Bare Footed Flight using materials available without travel overseas.[4] My initial engagement with the literature relating to the Bare Footed Flight included the historical and political writing of Tynyshpaev.[5] In addition, I incorporated monographs and historical articles by Russian orientalists of the imperial[6] and Soviet periods.[7] The drive to define the cataclysmic history of Kazakh-Zunghar relations constituted the primary focus of my analysis. Recent work by scholars of Central Asian history has supplemented scholarship regarding the interior workings of the Zunghars, poorly recorded because unlike the Russians, Chinese, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, and Mongolians, the Zunghars possessed no “nation” in the modern era,[8] no state or social apparatus to produce their history. In other words, the descendants of the Zunghars of the 18th century are very difficult to find in the liminal space between Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan’s academy has produced excellent critiques of the nationalizing processes in the legacy of the Bare Footed Flight, [9] but the historically understated importance of the Zunghars and their struggles with the Kazakhs and the Qing continues to produce curiosity outside of Kazakhstan as well. Several historians of China,[10] Uzbekistan,[11] and Russia[12] have written the traumatic events of 18th-century Kazakhs and Zunghars into the periphery of their projects. My focused study of the Bare Footed Flight encompasses two linked occurrences. In the early 1720s, the rise of the Zunghar military-polity culminated in an invasion of what is today southern Kazakhstan. The Zunghars pushed the Kazakhs north and south; Kazakhs crossing south over the Syr Darya river devastated the sedentary sections of Central Asia while those escaping north beyond the Aral Sea abutted lands claimed by Kalmyks and Cossacks in the Russian Empire. The consequences of the Bare Footed Flight influenced the course of the Russian Empire’s expansion, the trajectory of Russian-Qing (Chinese) relations, and the emergence of different polities in Central Asia. My project utilizes historical sources ranging from accounts contemporary to the Bare Footed Flight to the present state of national history in modern Kazakhstan. The literature illustrates that Kazakh historians have presented the Bare Footed Flight in ahistorical terms. Several post-independence Kazakh historians are accelerating this trend, bringing elements of nationalist theory into textbooks and higher-education texts effectively glorifying an imaginary past.
            By synthesizing sources from different perspectives and cultures, including Russian, Oirat/Zunghar, Kazakh, and Uzbek/Chaghatay, this project will be novel in the historical scholarship of Kazakhstan. Moreover, the Bare Footed Flight narrative as presented on screen and in textbooks in modern Kazakhstan makes use of the entire gamut of unwritten sources: legends and family stories collected in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, epic poetry, songs and poetic sagas, and anecdotes about political and religious figures of the era. The interplay of these sources offers a fertile, if presently fallow, field for analysis of historically oral sources and their value in historiography.
The methodology of my dissertation utilizes microhistory, asking large questions in the smaller situations inhabited by people often silent in history. My work will place the constructed narratives of the Bare Footed Flight in direct relation to the lives of its authors, including Mukhamedzhan Tynyshpaev. Due to the mobility of both historical Kazakhs and Tynyshpaev himself, transnationalism offers a rich toolkit for examining the processes at work in constructing the various iterations of the Bare Footed Flight narrative. Rather than replacing or dismissing nationalism, microhistory and a transnational lens will allow the reader to refocus on a broader, beyond-national picture that includes Kazakhs of Kazakhstan, Kazakhs of China and Mongolia, their ancestors, and the place inhabited by historical Zunghars in their worldviews. Tynyshpaev’s life offers a microhistorical opportunity to appreciate several broad trends in Russian (imperial and Soviet) and Kazakh history. Bregel (1996) examined the rise in popularity of nationality studies among scholars of the Soviet Union and their contemporaries in the United States and suggested that a return to source-based, critical history has lagged behind other endeavors. I will question the periodization, class analysis, and Stalinist models of nationalism that have characterized previous works on my topic. Moreover, I will challenge the historicity of the myths of a universal Kazakh catastrophe during the Bare Footed Flight.
My work on Tynyshpaev is part of a larger effort to repopulate the narrative of the multinational Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. As a young man, Tynyshpaev exercised deeply idealistic and strong political opinions in political gatherings and in print. Tynyshpaev easily traversed seemingly exclusive categories: patriotic citizen of the empire, self-identifying Kazakh of commoner (non-Chinggisid) descent, Muslim intellectual, beneficiary of Russian paternalism, and leader of two short-lived autonomy movements during the Civil War. The Bare Footed Flight that Tynyshpaev described was both history and parable, a personal tale of struggle, betrayal, catastrophe, and eventual revenge and victory. He referenced it early in his career and returned to it many times over the course of writing. His version of events relied equally on Russian scholarship and legends collected from his family and chance meetings during his work as a railway engineer in Central Asia. He collected the legends and analyzed their content, willing to challenge or verify each while an educator in Tashkent in the 1920s. To suggest that Tynyshpaev was writing history merely as a moral lesson is to do a disservice to both Tynyshpaev the scholar and the historiography of the region. Even more importantly, analysis of the Bare Footed Flight in many ways must begin with Tynyshpaev.
Previously, the scholarship of the Bare Footed Flight outside of Kazakhstan has only occurred on the periphery of other histories. Previous work on the subject has been cursory, without the Kazakhs and Zunghars as the focus of the scholarship. Such works (Khodarkovsky, 2002; Perdue, 2005) relied over-much on secondary sources from the perspective outside their area of expertise, whether Russian, Chinese, Oirat, Mongolian, Kazakh, or otherwise. Even Holzwarth (2005), a model for much of my own research, represents only an introductory analysis of the events of the first half of the eighteenth century. My addition to the field of Central Asian history will rest on centering the historical Kazakhs and examining their history for the causes and consequences of the division of the region between the Qing and Russian Empires in the early eighteenth century.  


[1] Clifford (1969) Mancall (1971) Paine (1996) A notable exception is the work first of Lattimore and more recently of Peter Perdue: Lattimore (1947) Perdue (1996, 1998, 2005).
[2] Atkin (1992) Esenberlin (1986) Yilmaz (2012)
[3] DeWeese (2000).
[4] Hancock-Parmer (2011)
[5] Tynhspaev (1925, 1926, 1927)
[6] Levshin (1831), Bartol’d (1963). These scholars made use of some contemporary primary sources, including the records of the imperial Russian embassies of Ivan Unkovsky, Aleksei Tevkelev, and Leontii Ugrimov to the Zunghars (1722-23), Kazakhs of the Junior Horde (1730), and the Zunghars (1730), respectively.
[7] Viatkin (1941)
[8] Miyawaki (1987, 1995, 2000)
[9] Erofeeva (1999, 2007)
[10] Perdue (1996, 2005)
[11] Holzwarth (2005)
[12] Khodarkovsky (1992, 2002)