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Collecting the Past to Remember: Kazakhstan’s Central State Archive of Cinema and Photography

Salām, everybody,” greeted Dr. Saule Satayeva on February 13th, 2013 to the students and faculty filling the room for her lecture. As part of the Central Eurasian Studies Colloquium, her talk was entitled, Recovering the Richness of Central Asian Nomadic Culture: The Challenges for Public Memory. “It’s a very great honor for me to be here and to talk about the history of my people and about my research.”

Currently the Vice Director of Kazakhstan’s Central State Archive of Cinema and Photography, Dr. Satayeva’s career in archival work began with her father. A famous Kazakh writer, historian, and archivist, her father began collecting information on American travelers to Kazakhstan in Moscow’s Lenin Library (now known as the Russian State Library) when he was a student in the 1940s. He kept his notes and gave them to her, which sparked her interest in a topic she is now pursuing as a visiting Fulbright scholar at American University.

In addition to her research on American travelers to Kazakhstan and Central Asia in the 19th century, Dr. Satayeva also researches subjects that highlight the uniqueness of Kazakh nomadic culture and how it relates to other nomadic cultures around the world.

In her capacity as Vice Director at the Central State Archive of Cinema and Photography, Dr. Satayeva is in a unique position to bring together her commitments to rebuilding and preserving the history of her people, to furthering research, and to building bridges between Kazakhstan and the rest of the world.

The Central State Archive of Cinema and Photography, located in Almaty, was established in 1942. After Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, a main commitment of the Archive has been the preservation of Kazakh history and also the reconstruction of history during the repression of the Stalinist period. Towards this aim, archivists appealed directly to the people for photos and documents that might have been preserved among families.

Today, the Archive contains half a million film and photographic materials, primarily relating to the pre-Independence, Soviet period. It also holds recordings of folk music and oral traditions and photographs of Kazakh material culture. From these archival collections, historians have pieced together a clearer picture of the history of Kazakh uprisings spanning over two centuries, yet many documents pertaining to the uprisings remain inaccessible in other archives in Almaty and Moscow.

Dr. Satayeva sees the use of such audio-visual materials as valuable not only for rebuilding Kazakhstan’s past but also for creating intercultural dialogue. Her current research and upcoming project of bringing an exhibition of American travelers in Kazakhstan to the Sackler Art Gallery are further contributions to this vision, in which the U.S. is a particularly promising partner for research and for dialogue.

“I believe that our joint research will have to create closer relations and our relations between Kazakhstan and the U.S. only has a good future.”