Exploring Central Asia – University of Copenhagen

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Esther Fihl: Exploring Central Asia.

From the Steppes to the High Pamirs 1896-1899. Vol. I and II. University of Washington Press 2010. 736 pages with 515 illustrations, 165 in colours.

 The Publication House writes:

In the 1890s the Danish lieutenant Ole Olufsen set out to lead two expeditions to Tsarist Central Asia. Exploring areas that were still blank on European and Russian maps, the participants spent more than a year travelling on horseback in the Pamirs and adjacent valleys bordering Afghanistan, China, and British India.


The Danish expedition team 1898-99

Among mountain peaks reaching as high as 8000 metres, they lived with Kyrgyz nomads who carved out an existence for themselves above the tree line with their ships, goats and yaks.

Travelling along the right-hand side of the river Pandsh, they were the first Europeans to collect ethnographical information on the transhumant pastoralists in the elevated valleys bordering Afghanistan.

On the steppes of the western lowlands, the Danish expeditions stopped in Samarkand, Khiva, and Bukhara, commercial hubs on the old Silk Road. As official guests of both the emir of Bukhara and the khan of Khiva, they studied the handicrafts of the bazaars and the irrigation agriculture practised by the Tajiks and Uzbeks.

On visits to Merv they also spent time with Turkmen nomadic tribes who had only recently been fighting the Russian colonial power.

Esther Fihl offers an in-depth study of these Danish expeditions and presents the magnificent collection of objects brought back to the National Museum of Denmark. Drawing on diaries, reports and published works and a scrutiny of the guiding principles for their collecting of objects, she demonstrates how these explorers portrayed the cultures encountered. A key aspect in her presentation of the ethnographical collection is the description of the Danish cultural and academic setting. She shows how the portrayals made by the Danish explorers reflect their own cultural perceptions and values, as well as the practical circumstances under which these representations were produced in Central Asia.

The work is a treasure for anyone interested in Central Asia, early anthropological theory, material culture, or European travel literature.

For ordering the book, contact: University of Washington Press

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