New Projects, New Writing: Getting Caught up at the Borderlands Lodge

December 10, 2018

Over the past year or so, a number of people (okay, two) have asked me why I'm not keeping up with the blog as much as I used to. In truth, there are a lot of reasons behind this--not least of which the fact that I've been researching a lot in Turkey and Russia, and feel like I should probably be a bit more careful about what I post. So, a lot of the sort of writing that used to appear on this blog has gone into abeyance. And frankly, the less time I spend on this blog, the less I get caught up in daily politics and the online world more generally--which is fine with me.

Trying to stay offline and out of doors...
Mainly, though, I've been trying to focus on my professional writing, and have perhaps been a little reluctant to discuss this work until it had begun to yield results. I put up a handful of posts during my sabbatical in 2016-2017, but even then I was mainly interested in getting work done in the archives and keeping a low profile (well, mostly). Up at the Borderlands Lodge, after all, that's something we can do pretty much without even trying.  

The research--taking place in Moscow, Istanbul, Amsterdam, and Budapest--has gone pretty well, and since April of 2017 I've mainly been busy with writing. I find that, having now gone through the experience of writing and publishing one book (perhaps you've heard, if you're a Turk across empires), at least so far the process of writing a second book has begun to appear a little bit easier. We'll see how that works out, though--there's still a long way to go. I hope to have the opportunity to do a bit more work in the archives next summer, but for now I'm interested mainly in hacking away at the manuscript and seeing where things lead. 
So what's the work I've been doing? I've been researching the life of the Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet (1901-1963), who spent much of his adult life going back and forth between Turkey and the Soviet Union. In truth, Nâzım has been the subject of literally dozens of biographies in Turkish, and two in English. So why does the world need one more book about this guy? 

I've got a couple of reasons for doing this. One is that I'm drawing upon sources--from Russia and elsewhere--that have never been used in the study of Nâzım's life, and which change the way we understand what he was doing. Nazim's biographers have been, for the most part, people who could research in modern Turkish, but there are also a lot of important sources in Russian and Ottoman Turkish (as well as in modern Turkish, but located in Russia-based archives) that haven't been accessed in the existing biographies, so I feel like I have something new and different to say about his life. 

Beyond the sources, however, I also feel like I have a different approach to offer--something that should stand out among the hagiographies and literary histories that occupy most of the Nâzım-related terrain at this point. As was the case with Turks Across Empires, the subject is a personal one for me. Rather than just toil away on esoteric academic subjects that have no connection to my own life, I try to pick topics that mean something to me as an individual. Why else would someone want to spend years of their life researching and writing a book? Well, there are career-related reasons, I suppose--after all, professional scholars are supposed to write books. But if the scholar in question feels no personal connection to their subject matter--if they just decided to pursue a scholarly career because one of their undergraduate professors thought they ought to, or if they're writing a dissertation or book because their graduate school advisor wanted them to--the end product ends up being pretty boring and lifeless. 

In any case, I've been busy working on a few things lately. This fall I organized a panel for the annual ASEEES convention that took place in Boston this past week. The panel was called "Comintern Stories: Internationalism and Intrigue in the USSR and Beyond," and the paper I gave was entitled "Scandal in the Comintern: A Turkish Communist Love Triangle in Wartime Moscow." This paper wasn't about Nâzım Hikmet, but rather some other Turkish communists whose stories I came across while researching in Moscow in 2016-2017. I'm trying to turn this paper into a journal article, and the feedback I got at the conference has given me some ideas. We'll see what, if anything, comes of it all. 

Meanwhile, another side project emerging from this research has been turned into an article. It's called "Children of Trans-Empire: Nâzım Hikmet and the First Generation of Turkish Students at Moscow's Communist University of the East," and has just been published in the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association. This article, which I'll discuss in another post, is about arrival stories: how Nâzım Hikmet, his friends, and a larger population of Turkish communists ended up studying in Moscow in the early 1920s. 

It's nice to have something come out in print again. For now, however, there's other work to do--I'm pretty swamped with grading this week, and I hope to have a draft of the Nâzım book completed by the end of this calendar year. In between ski excursions this winter break, that's what I imagine I'll be spending most of my time doing

Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.


More commentary, photos, and links can be found at the Borderlands Lounge.