Perspectives Daily

AHA Member Spotlight: Adeeb Khalid

Matthew Keough | May 28, 2020

Adeeb Khalid is Jane and Raphael Bernstein Professor of Asian Studies and History at Carleton College. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and has been a member since 1992 (with some regrettable interruptions). Adeeb Khalid

Alma maters: BA Hon. (political science), McGill University, 1986; MA, PhD (history), University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1993

Fields of interest: Central Asia, Russian empire, Soviet Union, Ottoman Empire, nationalism, empire, Islam, and modernity (they are all intertwined, believe it or not)

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? 

I became obsessed with what was then Soviet Central Asia in high school. At some point I discovered that one could actually make a living writing and teaching about it. There was a lot of luck involved along the way. The Soviet Union began to fall apart and its archives began to open up soon after I started graduate school, so I was able to find sources that I did not dare dream of before. And there was a vacancy at Carleton the year I was finishing up. The rest is history.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? 

This is a hard question to answer in the middle of winter, but St. Paul has great communities, good politics, and a major international airport. At Carleton, I have great students and wonderful colleagues.

What projects are you currently working on? 

I am writing a general history of Central Asia in the modern age (since its conquest by the Qing and Romanov dynasties). I hope to make it as accessible as possible.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? 

Yes. They have broadened, for one, and moved further into the 20th century. I was always interested in placing my research in broad, comparative frameworks, but it has increasingly become transnational.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? 

Perhaps my most fascinating day came in July 2000. When beginning work on my second book, I first ordered materials from the archive of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I am a child of the Cold War and I had grown up with the usual assumptions about the secrecy and the inscrutability of the Soviet Union. Now I was looking at detailed records of the inner workings of that regime. That the documents dealt with the era of the revolution and the civil war added another level of goosebump-inducing excitement. I had earlier found pieces of paper handwritten by people I was interested in and who had always seemed very distant. The personal connection of handling paper that had been handled by the people I was studying gave me enormous pleasure. 

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? 

Check out Devil’s Dance by the Uzbek novelist Hamid Ismoilov. It is a fascinating novel that switches back and forth from the 1820s to the 1930s, from the khans of Kokand and the Great Game to Stalin’s purges and manages to say a great deal about a lot of things. It is beautifully translated and is one of the finest introductions to Central Asia around.

What do you value most about the history discipline? 

Its capaciousness. We can choose our method and our approach as we please and we can borrow from whichever other discipline we want. History can be written in multiple registers, and historians generally write well.


AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.


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