Nomads, Networks, and Political Complexity in the Ancient Near East
Instructors: Richard Payne and Emily Hammer
Course Number: CDIN 40024/ NEAA 49924/ NEHC 40024/ ANTH 46425/ HIST 58003
This course draws on archaeological and historical approaches to examine pastoral nomadism in the ancient Near East. Historians and archaeologists increasingly acknowledge the central role pastoralists and nomads played in the development of cities, states, and empires, as well as the dynamism and complexities of transhumant societies that traditionally figured only marginally in their accounts. The course re-centers the historical perspective through a focus on mobile groups in the geographical and cultural interstices of traditional civilizational “centers.” It insists on the interdependence of historical and archaeological forms of analysis to the recovery of pastoral nomadic societies, economies, and political cultures. The comparative invisibility of nomads and pastoralists in literary and material cultures poses interpretive problems that the seminar seeks to address. On the one hand, archaeologists have innovated a range of approaches to document the activities of mobile groups that often avoided the very nucleation once considered a defining feature of civilization. On the other hand, historians have begun to transcend the sedentary civilizational perspective of their sources to place texts in conversation with material culture. Our aim is to bring together these methods to produce accounts of nomadic civilizations that are simultaneously archaeological and historical. We will also explore the tensions between interpretations drawn from historical accounts and ideas generated via ethnographic analogies. The seminar will discuss recent work emphasizing the economic, social, and political complexity of mobile pastoral groups, and the diversity of nomadic pastoral practices and nomad-sedentary relations in the past, while inviting the students to produce issue-oriented papers on various debates in the field.
CMES alumna Lydia Kiesling has written a glowing Letter of Recommendation for the Uzbek language, which she studied right here at the University of Chicago. Take a look at this defense of “less commonly taught languages,” and consider registering for the many Central Asian languages which we continue to offer here, including Uzbek!
To use Lydia’s own words:
“It can be difficult to talk about Uzbek without soaring into Orientalist flights. ‘‘O warbling beauty of the steppe!’’ I started to write, like a 19th-century lady traveler. Uzbek is the main inheritor of the Chagatai language, which with Persian was used in the great courts of Samarkand and Bukhara, Silk Road cities that have long represented the inscrutable East in foreign imagination. The history of Turkic languages is tied inextricably to the history of Islam, and thus with Arabic and Persian (both from different language families). Uzbek in particular is packed with Persian — important words like farzand (child) and jon (soul) and xudo (god) — and employs its commanding vowels; salom (‘‘hello’’) requires you to make the roof of your mouth high and round, unlike the flat ‘‘a’’ of the Arabic salaam. The plucking nasal ‘‘qa’’ and a gravelly ‘‘g’a’’ add a lovely burbling quality to rapid-fire Uzbek. It does warble.”
Take a look at CCES members’ exciting new course offerings for Autumn 2015! In addition to our rich selection of languages (Armenian, Kazakh, or Uzbek, anyone?), we will again be sponsoring an introductory course in Central Eurasian History. Updates will be added as we receive them!
This year at the 30th Annual Middle East History and Theory Conference, there are two events directly related to Central Eurasia.
First, a panel from 1:30-2:50 PM on May 1, 2015:
Room: Stuart Hall 101
Panel title: Central Eurasian Studies (sponsored by the Committee on Central Eurasian Studies)
Discussant: Michael Bechtel, University of Chicago
Kevin Gledhill, Yale University – “Trans-Caspian Diplomacy and the Coming of Qajar Rule in Gilan”
Donohon Abdugafurova, Emory University – “Anbar Otin’s Treatise on the Philosophy of the Blacks”
Rahimjon Abdugafurov, Emory University – “The Epic of Lady Mary by Sulayman Baqirghani”
Second, the Committee on Central Eurasian Studies is sponsoring a Happy Hour, 5:00 PM on May 2, 2015, at Ida Noyes Hall.
We look forward to seeing both new and familiar faces at these exciting events!
Sam Hodgkin, an active CCES member, is a doctoral student in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on the role of the Soviet Union in the making of modern Persianate literature, and vice versa. In his work, he follows Central Asian, Iranian, and Turkish writers and artworks as they wander around twentieth-century Eurasia.
This talk will be in Persian.
Next year’s CESC-taught courses are available for your perusal! Check back for more updates in the future – further classes may be added. Pass up this exciting smorgasbord of Central Asian languages to your own loss!
Come celebrate the end of the year with the Central Eurasian Studies Committee!