Talk – Tim Cope – Mongolia to Hungary on the Trail of Genghis Khan – 1 December

November 27th, 2014 by anna.c

This talk is being held at the Department of Geography on Monday 1 December, 4.30 – 6.00 pm

All welcome; please register your attendance in advance, see below.

Tim Cope – Mongolia to Hungary on the Trail of Genghis Khan

Adventurer and author Tim Cope shares his epic three-year journey through the land of the nomads, from Mongolia to the Danube, across the great Eurasian steppe with three horses and his dog, Tigon.

Tim – National Geographic Adventure Honoree 2007 and Australian Adventurer of the Year 2006 – speaks fluent Russian and guides in Siberia and Mongolia. He has spent the best part of a decade travelling Russia, Mongolia, and Central Asia by bicycle, row boat, skis, horse, camel and many other means. Most of all Tim enjoys coming to know people in their home environments by traveling in traditional and local ways. He will be talking to us about his most renowned journey: on the trail of Genghis Khan.

This event is free but ticketed: please register your attendance in advance on . This will also enter you in a draw to win dinner with Tim and the Cambridge University Expeditions Society committee after the event.

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Lunchtime Seminar – 26 November – Alessandro Boesi – Plants and the Buddha’s Word: Raw Materials for Paper Manufacture in the Tibetan World.

November 20th, 2014 by anna.c

A lunchtime seminar will be held in the Mond Building Seminar Room, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF

Wednesday 26 November 2014, 1.00–2.00

All welcome

Alessandro Boesi

University of Milan

Plants and the Buddha’s Word: Raw Materials for Paper Manufacture in the Tibetan World


In the seventh century, when Tibet became a powerful empire in Asia and the basis of Tibetan civilization was laid, recording of information became a crucial undertaking, primarily for administrative purposes. A new script based on a Sanskrit alphabet was devised; stone inscriptions were carved and wood was often used as a writing surface but had significant limitations. As paper, and techniques for making it, were imported from neighbouring countries, much more extensive writing became possible. It was most likely during this period that Tibetans selected the local plants that could be used to produce paper, and started this activity in their own country.

This seminar explores the issues related to the plant species used for paper production in Tibet through the examination of field data, available research, and classical Tibetan _materia medica_ treatises.

It aims at identifying the most important Tibetan paper-plants, discussing the reasons why they were selected, and examining the areas where these plants have been used.

Seminar – 25 November – Will Tuladhar-Douglas

November 13th, 2014 by anna.c


Tuesday 25 November

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Will Tuladhar-Douglas

University of Aberdeen

Theory, Anthropology and Buddhist books


In the last half of the 20th century, thinking about literature as writing generated a series of influential approaches, including hermeneutics and deconstruction. This led to a series of ‘textual turns’ in anthropology, whereby cultures and events were analysed and compared using literary tools. Yet the prior debates in literary theory shared a profoundly Abrahamic—even a Reformation—model of textual meaning; hermeneutics as a discipline derives from Biblical study. We now have good ethnographic and textual evidence that Buddhist books do not mean in the same way as Biblical texts: they are simultaneously performed, recited, interpreted, explained, copied, worshiped and visualised, and no one of these is prior to the others. How radical a challenge does this pose to existing genealogies and methods of ethnography and reading? What would a project to recover an ‘authentically Buddhist’ methodology for handling books look like, and is it even possible in the post-print Google Books age?

Seminar – 11 November – Viesturs Celmins

November 6th, 2014 by anna.c


4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Viesturs Celmins

University of  Cambridge

Allegiance and eligibility: The State and Islam in the Kul Shariff Mosque, Tatarstan


Based on a long term fieldwork, this seminar will explore a range of religious activities carried out in the Kul Shariff mosque, the largest structure of its kind in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia. In particular it looks at the way the mosque engages the wider public and proffers a critique of certain forms of the post -Soviet political economy. It suggests that the work of the mosque might be viewed through a complex prism of brokering allegiance between modalities of the regional state discourses while seeking to remain tenable to the local Muslim constituency.

Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation

October 31st, 2014 by admin

Creating a shared resource for the endangered culture of the Kalmyks

Almost four centuries ago ancestors of the Kalmyk people trekked across central Asia to form a Buddhist nation on the edge of Europe. Today Kalmyk communities are scattered across Eurasia, with the largest group in the Republic of Kalmykia. A new project will document Kalmyk heritage to produce an open-access online resource to help Kalmyk communities revive their endangered culture.

Early in the 1600s, several groups of Mongols travelled thousands of miles west in search of new pastures for their herds. The migration of the people who became known as the Kalmyks was prompted by tensions between Mongol communities. Their journey lasted more than a decade and they travelled around 3,000 miles to settle in the wide pastures west of the Caspian Sea. Here they formed the Kalmyk khanate.

In 1771, more than half the Kalmyk population attempted to return to their original homeland of Dzungaria, a region of central Asia then depopulated as a result of the Qing-Dzungar war. Only a third of those who set out on this return migration survived the perilous journey. Those Kalmyks who remained on the southern edge of Europe were incorporated into the expanding Russian Empire.

Today the Kalmyk communities living in the Republic of Kalmykia and the neighbouring region of Astrakhan (part of the Russian Federation) are remarkable in being the only Buddhist nation in Europe. Kalmyk culture, however, has long been considered critically endangered by Western scholars. Existing Western research on their distinctive way of life has been directed chiefly at the relatively small Kalmyk diaspora in the USA.

Now researchers at the Mongolia & Inner Studies Unit of the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, have started work on an ambitious project to document the cultural heritage of a people who are estimated to number around 300,000 worldwide. The objective of the project is to provide Kalmyk communities with a resource that can be used to compare, revive and popularise their endangered culture.

Making use of audio and video, the Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project will document Kalmyk culture in its broadest sense, including traditional songs and melodies, musical instruments, dances, oral literature, cuisine, crafts, festivals and many other. This unique body of knowledge will be deposited in open-access digital archives so that it can be shared worldwide.

The five-year project is being funded by Arcadia, a charitable fund dedicated to the preservation of at-risk cultural heritage and the environments. The principal investigator is Dr Uradyn Bulag, a social anthropologist known for his research into transnational studies of people, politics and culture – and particularly for his work on Mongolia and Chinese minorities.

“The project will focus on the Republic of Kalmykia and the adjoining Astrakhan region which is home to more than half the worldwide Kalmyk population. It will also look more broadly at Kalmyk communities in China and elsewhere in order to understand the inter-connectedness of Kalmyk culture in the Eurasian context,” said Dr Bulag.

“From the outset the project will involve local Kalmyk scholars and students. We hope that the resource we create will provide a means for long-separated communities to understand, communicate and exchange cultural information with each other.”

Throughout history, the Kalmyk people have been repeatedly displaced and oppressed. Many of the Kalmyks who attempted to return to Dzungaria in the second half of the 18th century perished. Those who survived the trip found themselves divided into various segregated settlements by the powerful Qing Empire.  In the late 19th century they suffered major devastations in the Muslim rebellions in Xinjiang.

The increasingly marginalised Kalmyks who remained in south west Russia were drafted by the Russian government to fight various wars of conquest which exerted a heavy toll. Between 1943 and 1957 the entire community was exiled to Siberia and Central Asia, charged with betraying the Soviet motherland by collaborating with the invading German army.

The fractured nature of the Kalmyk community – and the shifting identity of groups within it – represents a challenge to those seeking to document their culture. “In terms of the project, we are defining as Kalmyk the people who separated from the Oirats of Dzungaria in the 17th century, travelled to Russia where they formed the Kalmyk khanate, and later scattered,” said Dr Bulag.

“We hold that these people have a common culture even though, as a result of historical migration processes, some of them later adopted other identities and are now no longer called Kalmyk. In China and Mongolia, for example, they are known as Torghut.”

Under the Soviet Union, observance of traditional cultural practices was discouraged or banned. With the collapse of Soviet regime, opportunities opened up for minority cultures to rediscover themselves.

“The Kalmyks in Russia lost many of their traditional knowledge bearers in exile and, when were allowed to return in 1957, they found themselves living as a minority in the autonomous republic that bears their name. In these circumstances, post-Soviet Kalmyk cultural revitalisation has been slow and ineffective,” said Dr Bulag.

“We hope that the Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project will help to redress the balance by capturing and archiving an endangered culture and thus breathing new life into its richly distinctive practices.”

The team contributing to the project reflects its ambitious transnational reach. Dr Bulag and Dr Borjigin Burensain (University of Shiga Prefecture, Japan) will be overseeing the gathering of material among Oirat/Kalmyk groups in China. Dr Baasanjav Terbish and Dr Elvira Churyumova (both University of Cambridge) will be working in Kalmykia in collaboration with local Kalmyk scholars.

The project benefits from the expertise of Professor Caroline Humphrey (University of Cambridge) who is renowned for her work on Mongolian cultures.