From Ufa III

July 25, 2008
Well, I've finished my first week of work in Ufa and it has been really great. The folks in the archive have been friendly, and I've been able to get through a good amount of material here without being overwhelmed. All in all, there wasn't all that much that I needed to look through here, since I'd worked here for a few weeks back in 2005. However, there had been a number of questions which had come up since then and which I wanted to investigate here, and I think the two weeks that I'll end up working in the archive this month will be enough time to find whatever the archive has to help me answer them.

Today started off with some good news. Through a friend of a friend I was able to locate the personal fond of Rizaeddin Fahreddin, who features prominently in my work. I'd heard, through a number of channels back in Kazan, that his papers were located here somewhere, but I'd been given conflicting reports as to where. It turns out they're in the History Institute, which opens up on August 4. That works out well, since the archive closes at the end of July. From what I understand, most of the material here was produced during the post-revolutionary era, when Fahreddin was the (second) müfti of the Soviet Union. Thus, the material probably won't be too much help for my current project (which is on the late imperial period), but could prove helpful later on. Indeed, I've been collective material on the Soviet muftiate for some time, and might do something more serious on this topic at a later date--although I guess whether or not that happens will probably depend upon someone thinking I'm good enough to be given a job somewhere.
Since the archive is closed on Fridays I went to the "National" Library instead. Like the National Library of Tatarstan in Kazan, it's basically a municipal library which was transformed into a national institution once Bashkortostan became a republic in the immediate post-Soviet era. Also like the National Library in Kazan, the National Library in Ufa doesn't really have all that much of interest to me. I looked through their manuscript guidebook--they've actually got a number of manuscripts that would be of interest to scholars working on Islamic jurisprudence, but not too much that relates to the work I'm doing now. As far as their (Arabic script) book holdings are concerned, I still don't know what they've got, since the catalogues are closed right now (they're doing repairs in the catalogue room). However, Ildar--the director of the rare book and manuscript reading room--brought me a sampling of books that they had, and promised that the rare book catalogues would be open by Monday. That's fine with me. Among the books Ildar brought me, one of them--an 1897 history of the Orenburg Assembly by Muhammadselim Ishmuhammadoğlu--seems useful, and I made a copy of it.

The rest of the time I just chatted with Ildar, who was the first person here that I was able to engage in Bashkir conversation. I don't really know Bashkir, of course, but it's close enough to Tatar that I can speak Tatar and fake the grammatical endings while pretty much understanding what is being said to me. As I may have mentioned in an earlier post, I've been watching Bashkir television this week and haven't had too much trouble comprehending things, and Ildar was easy to talk to. He's a Turkologist who did his BA and master's degree in Ankara, so he speaks Turkish and knows Tatar as well. He was also good about correcting my Tatarisms and speaking to me mainly in Bashkir, which was nice. We talked for a while and then, after the library closed, he took me to a couple of bookstores in search of Russian-Bashkir dictionaries and other works on local history. I bought a couple of books--one on Bashkir grammar and a dictionary--and looked at a bunch of others. The bookstore scene here isn't nearly as good as the one in Kazan (where the government of Tatarstan subsidizes a thriving book publishing industry, and late imperial history is an especially popular subject), but they still had a number of interesting works. Ildar says that there are some even bigger bookstores elsewhere in the city, so I'll refrain from buying until I've had the chance to check them out as well.

One week into things I feel like I've settled in pretty well. I like my routine, for one thing. I've been getting up early, working for a few hours at home, and then heading off to the archive (or to the library, as I did today) for the afternoon. After work I've been going to one of a couple of different cafes in town for a late lunch/early dinner. My current fave is a place called Mado, which sells ice cream but I think has no relationship to the famous ice cream chain in Turkey. This Mado, moreover, has lahmacun and kebab and other foods, and while the food isn't quite what one would expect in Turkey, it is very clean and quite good. There's also an American-style diner in town which has a great patio and serves B- hamburgers and pizza. The diner has draft beer (Mado is alcohol-free), which can be nice after a day reading archival documents.

The weather has been very hot, in the low 90s every afternoon, low 80s at night. I've been walking a lot and having only one big meal a day, eating a lot of watermelon (the ones I've bought have all been from Kazakhstan). I've lost a few pounds, which has been good, and generally feel pretty positive about the way things have been going here so far.
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