Valikhanov is often regarded as the “father of Kazakh historiography and ethnography” and is sometimes even called “the first Kazakh scholar.” The Institute of Ethnography within Kazakhstan’s National Academy of Sciences is named after him. Educated in the Russian language, he was employed by the imperial government and became a member of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society and an officer in the Russian army, all the while continuing his research and scientific expeditions to study the cultural history of the Kazakhs and other Turkic peoples of Central Asia.
Valikhanov’s descriptive ethnographies, and the subjects he found interesting (including shamanism, nomadism, the ways that Islam became interwoven with indigenous Inner Asian religious values, and the nature of social changes in the face of globalization) are surprisingly modern. Valikhanov compiled early accounts of the oral epics sung by nomadic peoples of Central Asia, such as the “Manas” and other sung poetry of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – the subject of continuing intense study by ethnomusicologists and historians today. Unfortunately, many of Valikhanov’s expedition records and scientific papers on the history and culture of Kazakhstan remain untranslated into English and unavailable to a wider international audience. It is our hope that the Smithsonian through this project, along with Kazakhstan’s own museums, will contribute to a new understanding of the cultural history of Kazakhstan.