"Historical Investigation of Mobility and Translocality in Crossroads Asia on the Example of the Slave Trade in Central Asia in the 18th and 19th Centuries"

Elena Smolarz
Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann

Keywords: Crossroads Asia, Spatial and Social Mobility, Network, Slave Trade, Slavery, Forced Migration, History

The trading routes of Central Asia connect remote regions, such as the mediterranean area, Caucasus, Caspian Sea, Siberia, Persian Gulf and India. They span the steppe, inhabited by nomadic tribes, and the oasis-khanates of Bukhara, Khiwa and Kokand. Due to the trade – amongst others the slave trade – connections have been established beyond spatial, social and cultural boundaries. Crossroads Asia as a space of interactions was historically shaped by a high mobility of various actors in a particular network. Among the example of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, this research project will reconstruct and analyse the personal networks and the structural and functional conditions of the slaves’ forced migration as well as their integration in existing social orders and their strategies to improve the social situation. The historical study of the traditional labour conditions, structures, and interaction of network-actors in these societies contributes to the better understanding of the contemporary labour processes and especially of labour migration in Central Asia.

In addition to the spatial mobility the research project aims to especially examine the social mobility of the slaves as well as of the actors involved in the slave trade. For this reason the concept of translocal figurations will be used. On the first level the cohesive network of slave raiders, traders and masters as well as their social interactions and strategies will be reconstructed. The second level is formed by the relations between the slaves themselves and their masters. This power based network exemplifies social structures and the social order they were constituting, in the historical context at hand. The concluding level of network analysis displays connections between slaves – as a homogeneous social group as well as heterogeneous ethnic, cultural and religious groups. All concerned network-actors were involved in the definition and creation of particular social spaces. For the research of translocal figurations it is important to reconstruct these social spaces and the actor’s mobility within them. Which structural factors determined the respective actor’s positions and which strategies were involved by the latter to reach their objectives? Which interactions and interdependencies constituted these figurations?

The synchronic analysis of networks and reciprocal interdependencies will be completed by the diachronic analysis of historical change. Thus, the socio-scientific questions will be supplemented by research methods of the historical anthropology. The sources can roughly be divided into two categories. To the first group belong already published chronicles and official documents of the khanates of Khiwa and Bukhara as well as European, Russian and Persian travelogues from that time. The second group consists of not yet published archival documents providing information about the slaves’ economic and social situation as well as about diplomatic relations between the Russian Empire, Persia, Khiwa, Bukhara, the Turcoman tribes and the small, middle and great Hordes. Especially valuable are the commemorations and accounts of escaped or manumitted Russian slaves which show the slaves’ internal perspective and enable us to collect insights into their living environment. For the inspection of the not yet published sources, research stays in Astana/Almaty (Central Archive for History of Republic Kazakhstan), in Orenburg (State Archive of Orenburg), in Sankt Petersburg (State Archive for History of the Russian Federation) and Moscow (State Archive for the Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire) are scheduled.