Both outside observers and inhabitants of the Romanov Empire and the Soviet Union have noted the indispensable nature of documentation to the governance and imagination of the two states. Nineteenth-century Russian imperial officials often complained that the "production of documents (the process known in Russian as deloproizvodstvo) flourished unrestrained by any common sense" (Bruce 1982). In the Soviet Union, paper - identity documents and official biographies - conditioned not only subjectivity but also, as many satirists commented, conferred personhood. An individual, a community, or a nation did not exist in these two empires unless it could be readily interpellated by the state.
This panel explores the late Romanov Empire and the Soviet Union as empires of paper, focusing on how the production of knowledge and narratives in and through texts conditioned the subjectivity of these empires' inhabitants. While Soviet subjectivity has been an increasingly popular topic in the past two decades, this panel draws our attention to a lacuna in that largely Russocentric literature: the unique case of Central Asia, the last region to be integrated into the expanse of the Russian state. Examining literature produced in Russian, Persian, and Turkic languages, the presenters in this panel will argue that discourses around Central Asian spaces, peoples, and cultures complicate Russocentric understandings of Romanov and Soviet imperialism, nation-building in the two empires, and the construction of national cultures.