The Human Terrain System, 1867

I was under the impression that the US Military’s Human Terrain System, their new band of ‘militarised’ anthropologists, was a relatively new development but I just found a fascinating article on the use of social scientists by the Russian army during their invasion and occupation of Turkestan in the 1860s.

As with the modern military project, this also generated formal academic research which has surprising echoes with the modern push to get academics involved in focused foreign policy-oriented research.

The project was the brain child of Konstantin von Kaufman (pictured), a Russian army veteran who was appointed Governor-General of the newly acquired territories of Turkestan.

Learning from failure, Konstantin von Kaufman made ethnographic knowledge ‚Äúthe core‚Äù of his administrative policies in Turkestan…

But beyond religious tolerance, von Kaufman‚Äôs ethnographic inquiry was being undertaken with the utmost enthusiasm. Geographers, linguists, ethnographers, artists, natural scientists and other social scientists were employed to carry out von Kaufman‚Äôs project…

[Modern historian Daniel] Brower goes on to describe the “flood” of scholarly and popular articles and publications on Turkestan that followed. The attempt to classify the peoples of Central Asia met with confusion as people’s identities were frequently “multiple and contradictory.” But the “real needs of Kaufman’s ethnographic project were met.” Kaufman’s influence was, despite some interruptions, a lasting policy that even influenced the Soviets’ policies in Central Asia.

The article is taken from a blog written by Christian Bleuer, a doctoral student studying the social, political and military dynamics of Afghanistan.

There’s another good post on the site directly relevant to the modern Human Terrain System, which describes the fluctuating and complex social power structures of Afghani society which makes understanding it such a challenge.

Link to piece on Russia’s ‘Human Terrain System’ of the 1860s.
Link to piece on social power structures of Afghanistan.

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