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Reviewed by:
  • The Turks in World History
  • Matthew Gordon
The Turks in World History. By Carter Vaughn Findley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 320 pp. $19.95 (paper).

This is an ambitious and timely book. Findley, as reviewers of the cloth edition point out, faced numerous pitfalls in tackling the project. His success speaks to a command of the subject and a deft way of managing unwieldy material. The book's timeliness relates to the significant movement in Near Eastern/Central Asian post–Cold War politics, involving Turkey, the post-Soviet Turkic republics, and adjoining states toward commercial and diplomatic cooperation. The range of topics is vast and, on specific points, one can argue with Findley. But, as an introduction to the topic and as a teaching text, the book works very well. It is to Findley's credit that he offers scant support to the arguments on civilizational "clash" that one associates with Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, and others. Findley offers one of several responses to that idea: human collectivities—in this case that of the Turks—have been always and remain today elastic on all fronts.

Findley begins with two images—the caravan/bus and the carpet—with which he proposes to render the sense of distance, that is, how far in history Turkic culture and society have travelled. The first of these concerns a Turkic/Turkish reception to history and the related construction of identity: who, then, belongs on the bus, particularly once it has arrived in modern Turkey? The image of the carpet he uses to explore the wide networks of trade, faith, and culture linking "everything Turkic" (p. 6) in the premodern period. Carpet as metaphor in lesser hands would seem precious, but Findley uses it to good effect throughout. The point is intricate: it is partly a matter of livelihood, [End Page 151] particularly on the part of women; partly one of "multiple, repeated motifs" (p. 7), understood in representational and cultural terms (again, shifting patterns of identity formation); and partly a matter of perspective (to write of carpets is to write a rounded social history since carpet weaving was most often a domestic, local activity).

The main discussion turns first to the Xiongnu, the precursors to the Turks on the Asian steppe and founders of the first Inner Asian empire (chapter 1). Findley identifies the patterns—of steppe state formation, tribal confederation politics, and the ebb-and-flow of relations with China—that were to persist from that point forward. He introduces an additional thread, that of "the oscillation between tribal micropolitics and imperial macropolitics" that was to become a predominant and permanent pattern of Turkic / Turkish history (p. 29). The collapse of the Xiongnu ushered in the arrival of three Turkic states, those of the Türks, the Uyghurs, and the Khazars, a time period of the sixth to tenth centuries c.e. This long period witnessed the migration of Turkic populations westward, an adoption of new commercial arrangements and faiths (notably Judaism by the Khazar elite), and the range of resultant sociocultural transformations, all this as prelude to the period of Arab/ Islamic expansion. The chapter ends with close comments on marriage alliances—Xiongnu-Chinese and Uyghur-T'ang—and the women involved (the brides of the steppe kaghan). Findley's attention to gender relations reflects welcome trends in the discipline of world history; he perhaps does too little to integrate these comments into the full discussion.

Two great "boundary crossing points" awaited Turkic/Turkish caravans and carpet makers from that point forward. The first of these crossings, the subject of chapter 2, was conversion to Islam. Findley maybe draws the line too firmly; the perennial question of periodization clouds his discussion. But Findley's comments are subtle and well taken; he makes clear the extent to which the adoption of Islam was a genuine turning point (pp. 57–66). One pitfall, in teaching such material, lies in sorting out the multivalent modes of encounter and cross-pollination at the encounter point of old (steppe tradition) and new (Islam in various guises). These concern, for example, shamanistic patterns and such deeply rooted Turkic mythologies as that of Baba Tükles; Findley...


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