The Sense of the Past Among Inner Asian Peoples

In March, Professor Nicola Di Cosmo, Luce Foundation Professor in East Asian Studies in the School of Historical Studies, brought together twelve international scholars who participated in a workshop that explored “The Sense of the Past among Inner Asian Peoples.” The theme offered scholars the opportunity to share information about indigenous sources that enable a better understanding of the place Turkic, Mongolian, and Manchu peoples played in world history. Since their histories traditionally were relayed through Chinese, Byzantine, Persian, and Russian sources, a focus on indigenous perceptions of the past represents a new perspective for Central and East Asian history.

The workshop included scholars from Kazakhstan, Japan, Korea, and the United States, among them Di Cosmo and three School of Historical Studies Members, Christopher Atwood, Tatsuo Nakami, and Evelyn Rawski. “A workshop on this theme has never been done before,” said Di Cosmo. “I hope it will help us find a common understanding of how we can speak on this issue.”

From notions and perceptions of history among early Turkic peoples to historical analogies and allusions in the early Manchu state, the workshop elucidated the differences between foreign and indigenous recordings of the past. “Inner Asian peoples did not have autochthonous traditions of history writing, and in some ways this has prevented our understanding of how they understood their own past,” said Di Cosmo. But the last two decades have brought forth a critical mass of original source material. “We have learned a lot more about their own writings,” said Di Cosmo. “Through these writings, we are gaining a better sense of the relationship between Inner Asia’s present and its past.”

Participants in the workshop, which was made possible with support from the Gerda Henkel Foundation, included Meruert Abuseitova (Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan); Christopher Atwood (Indiana University, IAS); Nicola Di Cosmo (IAS); Michael Drompp (Rhodes College); Mark Elliott (Harvard University); Johan Elverskog (Southern Methodist University); Peter
Golden (Rutgers University); Naoto Kato (Nihon University); Hodong Kim (Seoul National University); Eiji Mano (Ryukoku University and Kyoto University); Tatsuo Nakami (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, IAS); and Evelyn Rawski (University of Pittsburgh, IAS).