December 12, 2006

Asian History Carnival

This blog has the honour this month of hosting the Asian History Carnival- and honour it is. I am not an Asian historian though I am a historian and have been shocked by the sheer quality and quantity of writing about Asia out there on the net- we have for you today all kinds of history, from the longue duree to the tightly focused study, from contemporary history to ancient history, representatives from every geographical area, Russia, China, Japan, India, South East Asia they are all represented here. We have all kinds of article, many different types of issue and history. There isn't as much medieval history as I'd like and not as much ancient history- my digging was obviously not good enough- but what there are are some of the best articles on the web about history I've read.

So to begin let's take in those parts of Asia and topics which few of us think about much if at all- Kazakhstan has unusually been in the news thanks to Borat recently- more interestingly though Ben at NewEurasia suggests it might have been amongst the first places to domesticate horses. Despite the prominence of Iraq in the News, the Kurds seem yet again to be ignored, something that R.D. Gasti at Ahuyevashi has tried to resist with this fantastic post about Kurdish nationalism. The Kazakhs and the Kurds are at least sometimes heard of by most of us, but as for the Tatars never- something that Garth Trinkl is keen to redress at his blog Renaissance Research. Coming closer to traditional history, but still as a society within a society, largely impervious to historical study we find the Assassins- a useful introduction to them is provided over at the World History Blog by Miland.

The other thing that we all tend to underrate when it comes to the history of various countries and continents is the importance of cultural exchange and comparative history. Well luckily the bloggers have been busy again. Alan Baulmer takes time out at Frog in a Well to remind us how Chinese ruling families have been attracted by other civilisations and even religions. Stephen Zavestoski notes at the Curious Stall that how present day Americans find inspiration from Indian TV heroes (ok its not history but it fits the theme). Dave and Stefan wonder about American interraction with Asia more generally- they use comparisons of Japan and China's contacts with the West in the nineteenth century to come to some interesting conclusions about why the countries have different attitudes to the US today. Comparative history has gone through a boom this month- Erik Ringmar is thinking about the reception of giraffes in China and in Europe and what it says about colonialism, I've criticised some of his conclusions here. Ringmar's work and the work of Tonio Andrade on Taiwanese and Dutch colonialism form the basis of this meditation on the differences between Chinese and European colonial policies. Colonialism is only one way for societies to interract though: as the Mutant Frog records here by showing the first attempted adoption from China to the US. That contact may have proved abortive, but the experience of Japanese prisoners in Kazakhstan during the second world war was as Leila shows at Neweurasia very genuine.

Contact leads to communication and there has been a real discussion this month in the blogosphere about the way that Asia and the West communicate with each other. Kotaji points out based on a translated Korean article the difficulties of applying simplistic models of Stalinism from the past to the present in the case of North Korea. Mohammed Fadel is also irritated by Western misinterpretations of the East and comes to the defence of Edward Said's orientalism, pointing out how Said's theory improved studies of early Islamic law. Adam Valve is also unhappy, he can't find Martin Amis's analysis of Russia or of Islam convincing. Using Asian history as a resource for Western politics or identity has always been common though, Morgan Pitelka brings a fascinating new light to this with a small collection of photographs of Japan taken by American GIs in 1951. G. Willow Wilson though isn't so unhappy, she finds solace in a group of thinkers who she thinks were genuinely open to Indian influence in the later Raj. Over at the Sepia Mutiny western intellectual trends specifically the economics of Milton Freidman are being used to analyse Indian economic development.

If the West has a political interest in Asian history, then so do many within the continent and a fair number of bloggers have picked up this month on examples of this. Xiaode for instance discusses how China is looking back at the mid nineties from the perspective of today and what the comparrison says about Modern China. The anonymous Qing historian looking at the Chinese papers sees more though, he sees the the modern Chinese start to reinterpret their history, thinking not about decline but about the restoration of the ancient Chinese empire. Any instability in Eastern Asia though is dwarfed at present by the instability in Western Asia- Juan Cole on his blog carries a link to a radio program he did about Shia and Sunni historical tensions in Iraq. Tensions within civilisations and regions are at least as strong as tensions from them to the outer world- Pass the Roti shows how those tensions can have a real impact on the evidence of the past that we have, leading to the destruction of ancient monuments in India. That wouldn't come as a surprise to Synchroni-Cities, for him ruins in a city like Delhi, can be the only indications left of past suffering and trauma.

Away from such gloomy notes of forboding and memories of destruction, away, let us merely revel in the past. I have a passing weakness for the history of crime- well Dave and Stefan fill that need by providing evidence of the plot discovered by James Legge amongst others to use the drains of Hong Kong to attack the city's infrastructure in the 19th Century. If you prefer less vicious enjoyment, then why not come over and read the Mutant Frog about the First Car introduced to Japan. Ah but don't get complacent because those boys at Blogging Walk the Talk, Dave and Stefan will bring you right down again with the tale of Eu Tong-Sen, the Hong Kong millionaire, his houses, mistresses, children, legal squabbles and atrocities committed during World War Two. Away from stories of murders, millionaires and cars, its worth considering with Alan Baumler at Frog in a Well the intellectual lineage of modern Asian society- in particular the teacher who framed Mao Tse Tung and other leading communists' ideas about the world.

Intellectual history becomes a bit of a trend as soon as we look at the blogosphere's contributions to knowledge about the old and famous Asian civilisational centres this month. Chandrahas one of my favourite literary bloggers, takes the time to consider and quote the exquisite poetry of the Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanik. At Chinalyst, they too are interested in intellectual history, over there Absurd fool considers in a deeply thought through essay what relevance the concepts of humanism and enlightenment have to Chinese history. At the Qahwa Sada, the authors (academics concerned with the Middle East) are more interested with the structures of Saudi oil production and the way that the Americans have exploited it over the years. Garret Johnson wants us to think about Russian democracy and the events of 1991 all over again as a way to explain present problems. Jonathan Dresner (the onlie begetter of this carnival) is also concerned with the longue duree, he wants us to look at Pearl Harbour as the end of a process of American Japanese relations stretching back to Commodore Perry. What Jonathan wants to do for American Japanese relations, Professor Cutler does every day for the contemporary Middle East, thinking about politics in an incredibly historical way, look for example at this post about the Middle East, the Democrats and the tensions in the region. Moving back to culture, Abu Sahajj reminds us of how different various cultures are, by thinking about how we define a Japanese geisha. The Axis of Evil Kneivel though reminds us that no matter what our cultural peculiarities there are some tragedies that all of us can empathise with across our boundaries, he brings up the horrible case of the disaster in a factory in Bhopal.

Its a rather grim note to end upon- but this carnival attests to some of the richness of the blogosphere concerning Asian history that's out there. Blog after blog is filled with interesting ideas, novel facts and good thought about this vast continent and impressive history- I've learnt a hell of a lot from collating these entries- so everyone keep writing. More than that submit your articles to the next Asian history chronicle and volunteer to host, its great fun- and I hope its fun to read these links!

LATER Typically I left off the list a crucial link- for all Asian historians and wannabe Asian historians (the category I fit into!) this is a link to the Carnival Homepage itself where you can volunteer to submit articles and also to host one of these carnivals- honestly its great fun, not too difficult and you will come across some truly wonderful writing.


james higham said...

Tatars - they just had their millennium celebrations. Tiberius, do you think you've given us enough reading in your post or would you like to load another couple of dozen links? You must have been at it all day and night.

Gracchi said...

WQell that's what you are supposed to do- I found it quite fun and its given me some more visitors today- the article on Chinese intellectual humanism is great. I don't think I'll do another for a while but it was good.

Ben Seeberger said...


as my introduction to carnivals, I can see why these are wonderful. Thanks for all the great links!

Gracchi said...

Thanks Ben- carnivals are great- I particularly like the History Carnival, Britblog, Mr Higham's blogfocus and the Carnival of Cinema- having said that I haven't explored all of them yet and there are all kinds of weird and wonderful ones out there for all tastses- there is a blog carnival website, type blog carnival into Google and you'll get to it where you can find loads of them.

CityUnslicker said...

I found this most enjoyable to read after my recent trips out east. Asian hisotry I find very interesting these days. As a historian I am tired now of the world wars and cold war millieu that passes for all history MSM now

Gracchi said...

Good. I have to say as an early modernist I agree entirely with you- world wars are boring. Thanks for enjoying it.

tpraja said...

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