Nariman Shelekpaev

Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Yale University

When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies?

I am from Kazakhstan, so my interest in Eurasian history is sort of natural. I became professionally engaged with the field when I was writing my M.A. thesis on Astana (Kazakhstan’s new capital city since 1998) at École de Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, under Vincent Fourniau. After Paris, I moved to Montreal to do a Ph.D. in history, where I continued to work on Kazakhstan’s capital cities and political history in the 20th and 21st centuries.

What support have you received throughout your career that has allowed you to advance your scholarship?

I won an ASEEES travel grant twice but was never able to use it! (Once because of COVID-19, and another time because I did not receive my US visa on time.) Hopefully, I will get another grant in the future!

What is your current research/work project?

I am working on two major projects at the moment. The first one is a political and urban history of Kazakhstan and its capital cities in the 20th century. It is also a comparative history of non-European states (based on the cases of Brazil, Canada, and Kazakhstan), which relocated or transformed their capital cities in the transition “from colony to nation” from the late 19th century onwards. Another project focuses on the history of Kazakhstan and the way its cultural forms and political systems have evolved in the 20th century.

What does your ASEEES membership mean to you? How has your involvement with ASEEES helped to further your career?

I was able to be published in Slavic Review! My article, which appeared in the Summer 2021 issue, is summary of some research I have conducted since 2016. It is a history of a Kazakhstani lawyer, who hit a judge with a fly swatter during a routine court session. It rethinks the issues of justice, artistic performance, and a broader political context in post-Soviet Kazakhstan.

How do you envision your current research projects(s) within the broader field of SEEES?

My current projects, and those I would like to develop in the future, focus on the history and historiography of the Soviet Union, Soviet Kazakhstan, and Central Asia. I am particularly interested in the urban history of the Soviet era (including comparative and transnational perspectives), the history of Soviet soundscapes, and Perestroika, which currently focuses mainly on the political figures in Moscow and pays little attention to the rest of USSR, especially Central Asian and Caucasus, in connection with the post-1991 period.

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

For many years my hobby has been classical piano. I was a professional musician until my early 20s, and used to perform with orchestras, giving recitals in several countries, including Italy and Spain. My favorite pieces are Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody and Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto. I am historian now but with time, I transformed my hobby d’antan into a research topic: currently I am also investigating Soviet Kazakh opera in the 1930s and 1940s.