Isolation or Integration? The Bukharan Crisis in the 18th Century
(Ohio State University)
Until recently, studies of Central Asian history that address the period between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries have tended to portray the region as isolated, disengaged, and pushed to the margins of the rapidly globalizing early modern world. Some continue to advocate for just such an interpretation. Efforts to explain this downward turn remain focused on the presumed collapse of Central Asia's historical role in overland Eurasian trade and the assumption that the resulting economic isolation not only undermined the Bukharan Khanate, but caused the region as a whole to suffer a civilizational decline. Recent work by researchers in multiple fields of history now clearly demonstrates that Central Asia's mediatory role in transregional trade continued throughout the early modern era, and that in some measurable ways it actually increased.
That is not to say that early modern Central Asians did not suffer political and economic crises or that, in the early eighteenth century, the Bukharan Khanate did not fall into decline. These points are well documented in the historical sources, and they are presented quite clearly in the secondary literature. However, in this paper, I argue that the actual causal factors propelling the Bukharan crisis have remained obscure. In an effort to resolve that problem, this paper will present a new and multifaceted explanation for the weakening of the Bukharan Khanate in the late seventeenth century, its fall into a state of deepening crisis during the early eighteenth century, and its utter collapse in the wake of the Persian invasions of the region in 1737 and 1740.
New Approaches to the History and Historiography of Central Asia from the 17th to the 19th Century