Saturday, March 23, 2019

Going Where People Don't Go: On Studying Central Asia

[This post was originally published Aug. 3rd, 2018]

One of the driving forces of my interest in history comes from wanting to learn about the things that most people don't care about. Like a guy who leaves a party a few hours early, walks to a café, and pulls out an obscure book.

I'm not completely sure what led to my interest in Central Asia, it might have been a few minutes on Google Earth. But at some point in the past few years I was thinking about the countries just south of Russia, their odd names, and realized that I knew nothing about them, their history, or the people who lived there. I'm sure that at the time I had never uttered any of their names before.

And with alumni access to the libraries at the University of Western Ontario there were a huge number of books on the region right at my fingertips. So over a few month span I started checking out titles. The brunt of what I read about at the time were happenings in the region during the Soviet era, but to this day I'm still reading bits and pieces of it's long history.

And even despite my interest there isn't a ton to say to wow my friends, family, or online connections. For the most part the region is poor, close to agrarian (withholding Kazakhstan), with governments that are a hold over from the authoritarian Soviet days. For most of it's history Central Asia has existed as a kind of conduit between Europe and East Asia, landlocked from sea routes, and in the modern era it's held minimal global importance.

Yet to me there is something assuredly worthwhile about studying the region. That thing isn't as much any utility. It's the satisfaction that comes from looking in a place that no one else ever looks, taking a few extra steps around the corner and going somewhere that people don't go. 

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