Planting Seeds for a New Term: Dissertations, Readings

After a restful Christmas Break, I’m back in Oxford for the first time since last June, having completed the major research trip for my D.Phil. research. While I’m still struggling with the eight hours’ worth of time difference – and hence jet lag – from California, it’s good to be back. Even compared with Moscow and Dushanbe, where I had lived before (if only for months at a time), I know Oxford in a way that I know few other cities besides perhaps Los Angeles and Princeton. After those two, it’s the place where I’ve lived the longest in my life, and since the folks at Corpus Christi College have even installed me in my old room from my second year at Oxford, things feel almost a little too familiar. Besides the handsome red leather chair that has replaced the old less-pampering fabric one, and the fact that our flat’s kitchen is almost bereft of silverware, everything feels in place, with few surprises in sort.

That’s why I chose to come back, after all: over the course of this Hilary Term, besides a few smaller tasks and courses (language courses in French and Urdu, and putting together a seminar paper for a presentation at the London School of Economics), the only real task on my plate is implementing the edits my supervisors have suggested for the D.Phil., all with enough haste to submit the final product by March 8th, the last day of the term. After that, depending on how a few applications turn out, I may be anywhere from Washington, DC, to Cambridge, UK, before returning to the UK for a conference on Central Asian Studies at the University of Newcastle, before ultimately decamping back to Moscow for part of the spring (tying up loose ends in archives, collecting materials for an article), and defending the D.Phil. some time in the spring. Or at least I hope.

Of course, in these early days after my arrival, there’s still plenty of time for self-delusion as to how long all of this editing and re-writing will take, and so I’ve been happy to continue reading lots of non-strictly dissertation-related books that have caught my eye: while back home, I was able to check out Rachel Maddow’s Drift, Steve Inskeep’s Instant City on Karachi, Pakistan, and Jason Stearns’ Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (a large popular nonfiction tome on the wars surrounding Zaire / the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1990s). And with author Pankaj Mishra coming to Wolfson College, Oxford towards the end of Week One, I hope to find time to squeeze a reading of that writer’s From the Ruins of Empire, a group biography of several early 20th century Asian thinkers, before he gives his talk: the apertif before the main course.

In the meantime, however, I wanted to give mention and toss around for discussion one book that has perhaps gotten overlooked in this year’s holiday cycle, but definitely deserves attention both from historians of South and Central Asia as well as folks involved in international relations and policy: Feroz Khan’s Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bombpublished by Stanford University Press this autumn. The book demands reading not just by historians, but also, hopefully, by international relations specialists interested in nuclear proliferation and US-Pakistan relations. Look for a long review essay either tomorrow or on Monday: I originally intended to include it in this post, but some of the issues raised by the book – Pakistani history, the nuclear program, Bhutto’s vision for the country versus Ayub’s – demand a longer treatment than I expected in beginning this post.

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