Mapping Other and Self: Language, Space and Identity in the Modern European Geographical Imagination of Central Asia

de Montety, Felix (2019) Mapping Other and Self: Language, Space and Identity in the Modern European Geographical Imagination of Central Asia. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

[img] PDF (Thesis - as examined) - Repository staff only - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (3MB)


This thesis investigates the European geographical imagination of language in Central Asia from the late 18th century to the First World War. While this “terra incognita” between Russia and India, China and Persia was shaped according to the interests of empires, it was also conceived by European scholars as the probable cradle of the Indo- European languages and civilisations.

Using published as well as unpublished documents from German, French, Russian, Hungarian, Swedish and British archives and libraries, I sketch the lives, ideas, practices and networks of several key figures who contributed to this narrative of Central Asia as a mythical European “homeland”. The thesis opens by discussing the epistemological importance of linguistic questions in geography. It demonstrates how placing philology in spatial context enables us to uncover important dynamics of 18th- and 19th-century research on the Asian roots of European languages, as well as to introduce the role of language and translation in the Humboldt-inspired tradition of modern Western geography.

It first suggests that Central Asia served not only as the chessboard of imperial interests as is usually argued in narratives focusing on the “Great Game”, but as a fantasised atopia in which Europeans mirrored their quickly-changing definition of themselves, notably as an imagined national cradle for several European countries. Thus it proposes to deconstruct the dead ends of this quest as well as to trace the diverging paths of geography, linguistics and anthropology not only in the legacy of their canonical ideas and practices but also in their thesir lesser-known controversies, failures and impasses.

Focusing on the transnational and translingual lives and works of several geographers, philologists and explorers, it looks at the political horizons and epistemological premises of such narratives of origins and attempts a spatial analysis of the processes involved in the reconstructions of a primaeval European paradise in Central Asia. Lastly, it contends that the geographical quest for Indo-European origins was slowly replaced with a geographical narrative of globalised communication which transformed the linguistic search of an original European homeland in the centre of Asia into a quest for “Silk Roads”, and the traces of ancient civilisations and exchanges across Eurasia.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Heffernan, Michael
Endfield, Georgina
Keywords: Central Asia; Turkestan; Orientalism ; Linguistic geography; Self-Othering
Subjects: D History - General and Old World > DS Asia
P Language and literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Geography
Item ID: 55705
Depositing User: De Montety, Felix
Date Deposited: 06 Dec 2019 10:36
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2023 08:11

Actions (Archive Staff Only)

Edit View Edit View