A little bleary in the archives...

August 11, 2008

Well, it's been a long day but a good one. I was supposed to call the Academy of Sciences first thing this morning to see if they had decided to let me research there or not. Two weeks ago when I applied for permission they told me I'd find out within a week, but when I called them last week they had hemmed and hawed and told me to call back a week later. I therefore had assumed that it wasn't going to work out, and so went out to a bar last night with Albert and a few of his friends.

Indeed, I'd only been out a couple of times in Ufa since arriving here a month ago, and I'll be leaving later this week. I figured it was time to do something other than sit inside all day in front of my computer. So, in the daytime I walked around town taking photographs, and in the evening called up Albert and proposed getting a few beers at Ogni Ufi, a complex consisting of a number of bars and an outdoor terrace not too far from my apartment.

It was good to go out, and I wasn't expecting to have to go anywhere today anyway. However, when I called the History Institute this morning they told me that I should come over right away, they were expecting me. This was good news, of course, but all the same I wasn't in the best of moods as I dashed out of the house, head pounding, to spend a day working in the archive of the Academy of Sciences.

With Albert at Ogni Ufi
Once I got there, though, I felt fine. Ramil Bulgakov, a local scholar of Rizaeddin Fahreddin, met me and took me up to his office, where we chatted for a while and drank tea. Actually, we chatted for hours. This being Russia, there were of course many delays. I needed to fill out more forms, they needed more photocopies of my passport, I needed signatures from people who weren't in their offices--the full drill.
Indeed, while getting into archives in Russia almost always involves some bureaucratic activity, this was really over the top. The reason, I think, is that this place doesn't really get many foreign researchers, so things were being done by the book. Whatever, it was no big deal and everyone was very nice to me. Finally, at two o'clock in the afternoon (after getting treated to lunch in the archive cafeteria!), the reading room re-opened and I was able to get to work.

The fond that I'm working on in this archive is the personal file of Rizaeddin Fahreddin, the second mufti of the Soviet Union and an important activist figure in the late imperial period. Most of the materials are not terribly useful--collections of published newspaper and journal articles of Fahreddin which can be much more easily accessed elsewhere. There are some letters, but nothing of interest so far. I have, however, found a history of Muslim spiritual administration by Fahreddin that appears to have been written in the 1920s. This appears to be an updated version of the history he published during the imperial period, and includes references to events taking place in the final years of the empire and early years of the Soviet Union. It's a handwritten document in Arabic-script Tatar, and as far as I know has not been published.

Despite all of the back and forth involved in getting permission to work there, conditions inside the reading room are pretty relaxed. Indeed, most of the time today I was left to work completely unsupervised. More importantly, they're allowing also me to photograph documents with my digital camera, which is enormously helpful.
Anyway, I hope to finish up within another day or two. I've only been given permission to work there for this week, but given the relatively small amount of material I'm interested in (and the fact that I can photograph it!) I expect things to pass pretty quickly.
Now all I have to do is read all of this!
To see more photos from the Caucacus journey, go to the photos page of jhmeyer.net.  
More links, analysis and photographs can be found at the Borderlands Lounge

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