History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume IV, The Age of Achievement: A.D. 750 to the End of the Fifteenth Century, Part One: The Historical, Social and Economic Setting, and: The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia (review)
- Journal of World History
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 12, Number 2, Fall 2001
- pp. 462-464
- Additional Information
Journal of World History 12.2 (2001) 462-464
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History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume IV, The Age of Achievement: a.d. 750 to the End of the Fifteenth Century, Part One: The Historical, Social and Economic Setting
The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia.
History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume IV, The Age of Achievement: a.d. 750 to the End of the Fifteenth Century, Part One: The Historical, Social and Economic Setting. Edited by M. S. ASIMOV and C. E. BOSWORTH. Paris: UNESCO, 1998. Pp. 485.
The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia. 2 volumes (I: Archeology, Migration and Nomadism, Linguistics. II: Genetics and Physical Anthropology, Metallurgy, Textiles, Geography and Climatology, History, and Mythology and Ethnology). Edited by VICTOR MAIR. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Man, 1998. $165 (cloth).
Central Asia has long been regarded as a major missing piece in the study of world history. Sitting on the borderlands of the world's major civilizations, it was long ignored or treated as an afterthought. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and China's greater openness to the outside world, this has begun to change. New nations have begun looking for useful historical roots, although such interests have often taken a decidedly nationalistic turn. New research, often the result of collaboration between local scholars and their Western counterparts, have greatly increased our understanding of the region while at the same time making us aware of how much more needs to be known.
The books under review represent two contrasting approaches. The [End Page 462] first, History of Civilizations of Central Asia is the fourth volume in a UNESCO historical project begun in 1976 that took more than twenty years to reach publication. The region was defined to include Afghanistan, northeastern Iran, Pakistan, northern India, western China, Mongolia, and Soviet Central Asia. The inclusion of Pakistan and northern India was a dubious choice for the period A.D. 750 to 1400, and the absence of Tibet is striking (although Himalayan parts of Pakistan and India are included). As a result, the coverage is unbalanced, with the marginal parts of Central Asia getting much more attention than its center. For example, one would expect a large part of the book to be devoted to the Mongol Empire and its impact. Yet in 420 pages of text only one disappointingly brief chapter of twenty pages is devoted to Chinggis Khan and the Mongols (Sh. Bira), followed by eight pages on his successors in Central Asia (B. Akhmedov and D. Sinor). By contrast the Delhi Sultanate (R. Islam and C. Bosworth), with marginal Central Asian connections, gets twenty-four pages, followed by another twenty-six pages on the even more marginal areas of "Sind, Baluchistan, Multan and Kashmir" (N. Baluch and A. Rafiq).
One suspects that the reasons for this imbalance are grounded in international politics at UNESCO. Each of the participating nations in the region got two representatives on the editorial board. Pakistan and India seem to have demanded region-for-region parity, even when there was little connection to Central Asia. China appears to have vetoed any mention of Tibet. Too bad the Soviet Union had not yet collapsed when the volume was designed. With five new Central Asian states and a more assertive Mongolia added to the mix, the Central Eurasian heartland might actually have become the real center of the volume. In spite of these defects, particularly the inexcusably poor coverage of the Mongol period, the first half of the book is very good and general readers will find it most useful. Iran and western Central Asia after the Islamic conquests and the invasions of the Turkish tribes and the dynasties they established are particularly well done, as are those chapters on the...