Accepted paper:

"Where is the Registan?": Imagining Soviet Samarkand in 1930s Travel Writing.


Colin Martin (Carleton University)

Paper abstract:

This paper will examine how three Western women travel writers in the 1930's shared a similar conceptual image of the ancient city of Samarkand as the venerable, Orientalized Timurid capital, which was then used to support or condemn the contemporary Soviet Union's modernization campaign in Soviet Uzbekistan. This paper uses critical discourse analysis to deconstruct how these women travel writers used Soviet Samarkand as a platform either of glorifying a timeless Timurid mythos, one that reproached the Soviet Union's attempts to bring modernity to this ahistoric Orient; or as demonstrating the inevitable expansion of modernity, rightly sweeping away whatever ruins and refuse remains from the terrible, tyrannical non-Socialist past. I look specifically at three Western women travel writers: Anna Louise Strong's Red Star in Samarkand (1929), Ethel Mannin's South to Samarkand (1936), and Rosita Forbes' Forbidden Road - Kabul to Samarkand (1937). These women travel writers debate the Soviet state's efforts to preserve or destroy Samarkand's illustrious Timurid past alongside Samarkand's growth as the emerging educational center within a rapidly-changing, dynamic Soviet Uzbekistan. Each of these writers imagine Soviet Samarkand from within the same Western intellectual and cultural framework; Samarkand is the representative conceptual battleground between an imagined, unchangeable Timurid past and intrusive, modernizing Soviet future. This paper provides three unique perspectives on Soviet modernization in Uzbekistan, each relying upon a shared Samarkand envisioned in the crumbling fa├žades of the Registan, and using the contrast between the ancient Registan and modern factories to comment on the validity of Soviet Uzbekistan's social and urban modernization. This research expands discussions on how these travel writers shared an Orientalized image of Samarkand intimately connected to its mythical Timurid past, and how the Soviet Union's destructive modernity was applauded or condemned within a Western debate on Samarkand's proper historicity as the shrine of the quasi-mythic history of Timurid Uzbekistan, amid the rapidly changing union of machine and man.

panel HIS-13
Revolution and Stalinism in Central Eurasia