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Central Asia between Empires: New Research on the 18th and 19th Centuries  

James Pickett

Central Asia’s 18th and 19th centuries marked the definitive end of the nomadic empires that characterized the region’s geopolitics for over three millennia before the advent of colonialism. Although it is open to debate which polity was the last “empire of the steppe,” a strong case can be made for the Junghar confederacy, which contested the Qing Empire of China for dominance in Eurasia in the 17th and 18th centuries—ultimately unsuccessfully. The Junghars owed their early success to a combination of new gunpowder technology and nomadic military organization, and the fragmented city-states that emerged from Nadir Shah Afshar’s empire (1736–1747)—such as Bukhara, Khiva, and Khoqand—relied even more on musketeer infantry units composed of individuals without ties to the local Turkic military elite. The emergent fiscal-military states that characterized Central Asia on the eve of colonial conquest were thus quite novel in terms of structural power dynamics, yet thoroughly Turko-Perso-Islamic in terms of symbolism, law, and patrimonialism. This period also witnessed what was in many ways the apex of Persianate high culture, building on traditions with roots stretching back to the Timurid period and earlier. Sufism in all of its forms became mainstream. Intellectual elites were polymathic, simultaneously mastering jurisprudence, poetry, medicine, occult sciences, and more. Vernacularization, particularly in literary Central Asian Turki, deepened these currents and carried them to new audiences. The new city-state dynasties competed with one another to build up educational centers to support all of these cultural forms. Many of these cultural, social, and even political forms persisted under colonialism, even as the pace of change sped up. Some of the precolonial dynasties persevered under indirect colonial rule. Sufi brotherhoods and Islamic learning expanded, only to be snuffed out or transformed in the Soviet period. Only at the very end of the 19th century did colonial modernity—in the form of large-scale cotton cultivation, new understandings of national identity, print culture, and steam-propelled transport—begin to make significant inroads.



Naoki Amano

The modern history of Sakhalin Island, a border island between Russia and Japan, has been one of demarcation, colonization, re-demarcation, and refugee resettlement, with a total of four demarcations and re-demarcations since the late 19th century, the first through diplomatic negotiations and the remaining three through war. One of the most significant features of the modern history of the border island is that each time the sovereignty of the islands changed, the population was completely replaced. Four major events shaped the history of Sakhalin Island: the Treaty of St Petersburg of 1875, which de-bordered the island from the traditional international system of East Asia and incorporated it into the modern international system of the West; the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, which resulted in the Japanese acquisition of the southern half of the island; the end of the five-year military occupation of northern Sakhalin by the Japanese in 1925; and the Soviet occupation of southern Sakhalin in 1945. Through each of these occasions, a holistic picture of the modern history of the Russo-Japanese border island can be discerned by focusing on the mobility of its inhabitants, how the inhabitants became displaced and were forced to leave their homes, and how the island was settled by the new sovereigns who replaced them.