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  • To the Editors
  • Shoshana Keller

Congratulations on a particularly stimulating issue for spring 2015! I found the discussions of early modern Russia and the place of Central Asia in Russian history exciting and helpful for both my research and my teaching—Paul Bushkovitch’s essay will be assigned to my students this fall. I’d like to add a few comments and point out ways in which the two fora work together.

First of all, while I can speak only for myself, I have not only not felt like the redheaded stepchild of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), but I am grateful for the space and attention that the organization gives to Central Eurasianists. ASEEES is certainly a refreshing contrast to the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), which is so Arab-oriented that even Turks and Iranians are somewhat marginalized.

Second, Nancy Kollmann’s response to Bushkovitch also provides a different kind of answer to the question raised by Jeff Sahadeo: why does Central Asia—or Central Eurasia, as I prefer—matter to Russian history? If we think less in terms of geography and more in terms of cultural complexes, Russia from its earliest history has developed inextricably from the Turko-Mongol world, even as it has been part of Europe. We all know that Kievan Rus´’s first encounter with the Mongols was at the Kalka River battle in 1223, but the Novgorod Chronicle casually mentions that the Rus´ fought there in alliance with the “godless Kumans” (Polovtsy, Turkic-speaking nomadic pastoralists) because Prince Mstislav of Galich just happened to be married to the daughter of the Kuman chief. These marriage/political alliances entwined Russian and Turkic, and then Turko-Mongol, elites for centuries, long past the Mongol period. Even before Mongol suzerainty formally ended, Muscovy incorporated its own client khanate at Kasimov, which meant that Tatars—Muslims as well as Christian converts—were familiar figures at court. Russian merchants had regular trade ties with the Emirate of Bukhara, which sent caravans to Nizhnii Novgorod. Kollmann points out that early modern Russian development was strikingly Eurasian in character (328–29), which [End Page 725] suggests that historians’ understanding of pre-Petrine Russia is incomplete without studying the Turko-Mongol cultural complex that helped shape it. I would go so far as to suggest that we can view Muscovy as the western edge of the Turko-Mongol world (with additional influence from Iran) as much as we traditionally view it as the eastern edge of European Christendom.

Gulmira Sultangalieva highlights the fact that the early Russian Empire cut its administrative teeth on the Turko-Mongol pastoralists of the western steppe (354–55), which should connect the study of Russian history to larger historiographical concerns about modernization, colonialism, and national identity. Understanding Central Eurasian history is a necessary part of this work. The same argument can be made for the Soviet period, although we have made more progress investigating that era than earlier ones.

Petr Chaadaev wrote in 1836 that Russia was “resting one elbow on China and the other on Germany.” Central Eurasia is the body in between those elbows, and as such concerns us all. [End Page 726]

Shoshana Keller
Dept. of History
Hamilton College
Clinton, NY 13323 USA


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