Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia: The Memory of Heroes

Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia: The Memory of Heroes

Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia: The Memory of Heroes

Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia: The Memory of Heroes

Synopsis

Christopher Kaplonski, affiliated to the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge, has carried out extensive research in post-socialist Mongolia where he has worked since the early 1990s.

Excerpt

One Tuesday in April 1990, a group of cultural anthropologists were meeting for a discussion over lunch. A friend of mine, Cristina Eghenter, reached into her backpack and pulled out a photocopy of a human interest piece from that day's New York Times. "Here, " she said. "Mongolia falls between the Himalayas and Siberia. I thought you might be interested in this." She knew my distaste for hot weather, and that I had been thinking of working in the Himalayas, or possibly Siberia, at that time a relatively new research site for American anthropologists. I read the article, which is still in my files somewhere. It was a short piece about life in Ulaanbaatar. It hinted at some interesting things going on in terms of identity and history, topics that I was interested in. I had become intrigued by how knowledge is transmitted and transformed between people, the power relations implied, and how this applied to vaguer concepts such as identity. The Mongols, the article mentioned, were coming out from under seventy years of essentially colonial Soviet rule. Thinking about history and identity in a new way was part of this, and to my mind immediately offered a chance to explore the questions I was interested in. Well, I thought to myself, it couldn't hurt to read a bit more about Mongolia. And now, almost a decade and a half later, I am still learning about Mongolia and finding it fascinating.

In anthropological terms, it is relatively easy to explain why I find myself drawn back to Mongolia time after time. I was fortunate enough to first do research in Mongolia during the upheavals of the early years of post-socialism. Life was difficult, but the opportunity to watch and experience identity being rethought as it happened was wonderful. Since then, my interests, and often serendipity, have led my research in new directions. As Mongols have grappled with the numerous issues that post-socialism has presented them with, I have been able to follow along, deepening my knowledge and fascination, but also reminding me of just how little I truly understand. Although this book represents a degree of closure for one project, many of the issues addressed in it - nationalism, identity and memory - continue to act as leitmotifs in my ongoing research.

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