Society and Identity
Northern Asia has hardly been the subject of concern at ICAS meetings during the first twenty years of its existence. This despite the fact that sociocultural studies of past and present societies in the region have been undertaken by Russian, German, Scandinavian, Hungarian, Chinese, Japanese, American, and other scholars at least since the eighteenth century, when ethnography developed as a systematic program. The ambivalent position of Russia, Siberia, and Mongolia between Europe and Asia, sharing elements of both continents, has led to a neglect in Western scholarship. Northern Asia is the largest but the least populated subregion of Asia, which has been inscribed with many discourses and narratives through time. The vast space stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean suggested emptiness and alterity in a way few other regions had. The vison of this mythical domain faded when the Soviets took power in the early 20th century. Within a few decades the industrial expansion of the Soviet economic system accelerated in such a manner that the traditional hunting grounds and reindeer pastures of the North had become landscapes of major natural resource extraction projects. While political regimes during the Tsarist and Soviet periods have hardly facilitated scholarly research, these restrictions have been lifted in the post-Soviet period and much research has been undertaken since the 1990s. Aiming to fill the gap between Asian studies in general and Northern Asia in particular, this panel proposes to bring these fields into contact by focussing on the interrelations between history, the environment, and cultural resources of the region in a longue durée framework. We invite scholars to reflect on the use of the region’s deep ethnographic record in order to study human-environment interactions in Northern Asia, Mongolia, and other circumpolar regions from a historical perspective.