Yesterday I gave the keynote speech at the 22nd conference of the Association of Central Eurasian Students at Indiana University. I am an alumnus of the Central Eurasian Studies (CEUS) program at IU so it was exciting to get to talk to the next generation, even though I may have traumatized them with this talk. Below, the text of my speech:
As you may already know, I am a CEUS alumnus, and I look back at my time here mostly with appreciation. While I was here, of course, I complained about CEUS with everyone else, even coining the phrase “afCEUSki” to describe it – that’s a joke for the Uzbek specialists in the room — but the truth is there is tremendous value in area studies programs, particularly programs that emphasize languages and history in the way CEUS does.
You never know how much you appreciate CEUS until you’re out in the real world answering questions like “Where is Central Asia?” with “It’s in the center of Asia”. So it’s great to be talking with young scholars who know beyond the basics and are interested in the future of the field.
I started my MA in CEUS in 2004, and looking back, it’s hard to believe how much has changed. I thought about titling this talk “The Future of Central Asian Studies” until I realized how much my keynote resembled a eulogy. Because the truth is, Central Asian studies is in bad shape. Our field is a great example of how funding impacts knowledge, and how without money and jobs, research on a region declines. Our field is also a cautionary tale on the dangers of linking independent academic research to military intelligence, and what happens to scholars when the wars that indirectly fund their training end. And our field is also a fine example of the challenges of research in authoritarian states, and the limitations of what scholars can do in restricted information environments.
That said, I still feel very strongly that research on Central Asia is important, and that we need to figure out a way to keep it going despite these obstacles. Though great strides in scholarship have been made since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is still a woefully underexplored field, regardless of your discipline. It is a field of untranslated texts for historians, unexplored regions for anthropologists, and untested theories for political scientists. It’s a field of unanswered questions. And one of the biggest questions, unfortunately, is how to keep the field alive. I would imagine that is a question many of you are asking as you wonder what you will do with your degree.