Ian W. Campbell

Sep 23, 2022

Knowledge and the Ends of Empire

Kazak Intermediaries and Russian Rule on the Steppe, 1731-1917

Cornell University Press 2017

In Knowledge and the Ends of Empire: Kazak Intermediaries and Russian Rule on the Steppe, 1731-1917 (Cornell University Press, 2017), Ian W. Campbell investigates the connections between knowledge production and policy formation on the Kazak steppes of the Russian Empire. Hoping to better govern the region, tsarist officials were desperate to obtain reliable information about an unfamiliar environment and population. This thirst for knowledge created opportunities for Kazak intermediaries to represent themselves and their landscape to the tsarist state. Because tsarist officials were uncertain of what the steppe was, and disagreed on what could be made of it, Kazaks were able to be part of these debates, at times influencing the policies that were pursued. 

Drawing on archival materials from Russia and Kazakhstan and a wide range of nineteenth-century periodicals in Russian and Kazak, Campbell tells a story that highlights the contingencies of and opportunities for cooperation with imperial rule. Kazak intermediaries were at first able to put forward their own idiosyncratic views on whether the steppe was to be Muslim or secular, whether it should be a center of stock-raising or of agriculture, and the extent to which local institutions needed to give way to imperial institutions. It was when the tsarist state was most confident in its knowledge of the steppe that it committed its gravest errors by alienating Kazak intermediaries and placing unbearable stresses on pastoral nomads. From the 1890s on, when the dominant visions in St. Petersburg were of large-scale peasant colonization of the steppe and its transformation into a hearth of sedentary agriculture, the same local knowledge that Kazaks had used to negotiate tsarist rule was transformed into a language of resistance.

Maggie Freeman is a PhD student in the Department of Architecture at MIT. Her work focuses on histories of nomad-state relationships and uses of architecture in nomadic contexts, with a focus on the Middle East.

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Maggie Freeman

Maggie Freeman is a PhD student in the School of Architecture at MIT. She researches uses of architecture by nomadic peoples and historical interactions of nomads and empires, with a focus on the modern Middle East.

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