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Old November 26th, 2018, 01:15 AM   #6
Andy Hale
Posts: n/a

19th century writing on Central Asia, especially the traveller’s accounts, are fun to read. Since they are often written in the first person, they give a feeling of being a direct and honest account of what was actually going on at the time. This has led some modern writers on textiles to quote uncritically from the literature, especially when it reinforced some of their own ideas. (I have been guilty of this myself in the past!)

Although many of the 19th century authors write with great authority, quite often they are only cribbing from other books or repeating things they heard but never actually saw. We are often on very shaky ground when using them as a historical source.
A useful corrective for those first encountering these authors would be an article by Noah Tucker:
It is not the only study of the subject but it is fairly short, to the point and available free online with minimal effort.

For a more useful source on Turkmen and their struggle to survive I highly recommend “The Turkmens in the Age of Imperialism” by Dr. Mehmet Saray. This is serious work that draws on English, Russian, Turkish and, yes, Turkmen written sources that provides a much clearer picture of what was going on than reading travel accounts. Not much mention of rugs though. You can buy it online from the usual bookwallahs.

A good source on collecting and collectors in 19th century Central Asia is Svetlana Gorshenina’s “The Private Collections of Russian Turkestan” from 2004.
There is still a lot of material in archives yet to be discovered. I expect important work will be done in the future by Central Asians themselves now that they are free to explore their own pasts. What they will make of the western contributions (some of which are truly bizarre!) will be very interesting to see!
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