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Center for Metropolitan StudiesKassymbekova, Botakoz

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Botakoz Kassymbekova (Postdoc Fellow)


Center for Metropolitan Studies
TU Berlin
Hardenbergstraße 16-18
10623 Berlin


From guests to hosts of modernity: Russia on stage in Grand Hotels from 1870 till 1925

This research seeks to investigate the ways Russian elites staged themselves to the world and reproduced its understanding of the world in Russia’s Grand Hotels between 1870s and 1920s. The research thus seeks to investigate the relationship between the development and spread of particular global urban public places/spaces and (re)definitions of the social order and identity that they forged – both local and global – in specific historical contexts. More concretely, I intend to investigate if and how Grand Hotels in Rusisa’s Moscow and St. Petersburg in late imperial period became spaces of encounter between the nobility, the new bourgeoisie and the world community broadly defined. Apart from studying under what conditions these places could be produced in the first place, I am interested in investigating how they became stages of representation for the local actors reflecting on their status and roles under the changing economic and social conditions of industrialization.

The basic question of this research is to ask: how did Russian elites host the “world” and (re)defined itself in its metropolitan Grand Hotels as part of Europe, a Nation and an Empire? I am particularly interested in studying the question from three perspectives: 1) a Grand Hotel as a (global or national) industry. Here I am interested in researching importance of interconnections between European economies and technical knowledge and skills in constructing Grand Hotels in Russia. 2) A Grand Hotel as a “Palace” for the new elite. I am interested in knowing whether Grand Hotels became new places of encounter between old aristocratic and new industrial elites. If yes, what did mean socially, culturally, economically and politically? 3) A Grand Hotel as a world stage: between West and East. Here I am particularly interested in strategies of representation of the “West” and “East/Russianness” in Grand Hotels’ architectural and interior design.

I hypothesize that although Russia’s Grand Hotels largely stayed national prestige objects, not transnational spaces of encounter between European elites, they reflected social, political and economic changes characteristic of what I term as industrial metropolitanism, which expressed itself in, among other things, competition among world powers and social groups to stage their supremacy physically. Grand Hotels materialized industrial metropolitanism because, I suggest, they connected the age’s various demands and controversies: traditional exclusivity and new ways for integration, privacy and anonymity, ‘aristocratic’ luxury and a possibility to buy it, and so on.

I draw my research on archival material, periodicals, press, films, memoirs and literary works. My research method is inductive, but I draw inspiration from theories of nationalism and industrial decentralization.



07/2012 – 04/2014
IGK post-doctoral Fellow
Technische Universität Berlin
Topic: “From guests to hosts of modernity: Russia on stage in Grand Hotels, 1870 - 1925”

2009 – 2012
Academic Associate (Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin)
Department of East European History
Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

2005 – 2006
Humanities Fellow at the University of Central Asia, Dushanbe
Main activities
: teaching, conducting research, organizing international seminars and conferences.

2004 - 2005
Research Fellow at Freie Universität Berlin (Academic Exchange)
International exchange program of the Berlin House of Representatives
Research topic
: Social history of emotions: politics of ‘guilt’ in Germany.


2009 – 2012 Ph.D. in East European History
Humboldt University Berlin
Doctoral Thesis: “Despite Cultures: Soviet rule and law in Tajikistan in the 1920s and 1930s”

2003-2004 M.A. with Distinction in Social and Cultural History, University of Essex
MA dissertation
: “Soviet industrialization in Central Asia: mining, living and changing in Ak-Tyuz”

1999 – 2003 B.A. with honours (Magna Cum Laude) in International and Comparative Politics and Sociology at the American University – Central Asia (AU-CA)
BA dissertation
: “Memory, Culture and Symbolism in Oral History of Riots of 1967 in Chimkent and Frunze”

1998 High school exchange year in Albion High School, NY, USA
Future Leaders Exchange Program
, US Congress

1997 Gymnasium Diploma, Chimkent, Kazakhstan


2010-2012 Courses taught at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

  • Exploring Soviet Spaces
  • The Socialist Experiment
  • Introduction to Russian History, from Peter the Great to October Revolution
  • Russia in Central Asia in 19th and 20th century
2006-2007 Courses taught at the University of Central Asia
  • Introduction to Humanities
  • Theories of Nationalism
  • Methods of Social Research
  • Oral History methods

Across the Iron Curtain: Soviet Central Asian tourists in Western Europe (forthcoming) In K. Burell, Socialist and Post-Socialist Mobilities. MacMillan: London 

’Primordializm’ (and editor) in Mukkadima ba nazariiai avrupoii bun’iodi davlati millii (forthcoming in March 2012) [Nation-state building: European perspectives] Irfon: Dushanbe

Together with Christian Teichmann (Forthcoming in 2012). The Red Man’s Burden. Soviet European Officials in Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. In M. Reinkowski, & G. Thum, Helpless Imperialists. Imperial Failure, Fear and Radicalization. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Humans as territory. Forced resettlement and the making of Soviet Tajikistan, 1920-1938. (2011). Central Asian Survey, 30(3-4).

Helpless Imperialists. European state workers in Soviet Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. (2011). Central Asian Survey, 30(1).

Memories of the Riots in Chimkent (Kazakh SSR) and Frunze (Kirghiz SSR) in 1967. (2007). Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung, XIII (20).

(2005). Capital Punishment in Kyrgyzstan. Between the Past, "Other" State Killings and Social Demands. In A. Sarat, & C. Boulanger, The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment. Comparative Perspectives. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Vom Geist der Gesetze in Zentralasien. (Summer 2001). WeltTrends, 31.

Book Reviews and analytical articles published in Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Transitions On Line (www.tol.cz), Central Asian Analyst (www.caci-analyst.org)


Humboldt University and University of Central Asia, Center for Strategic Research and National University of Tajikistan international cooperation project: designed and coordinated an international cooperation project that resulted in training of university teachers and students in theories of nationalism, cooperative publication of a university textbook and various workshops and conferences.

Place-centered writing workshop
–organized and managed an international workshop with participants from the United States and five republics of Central Asia.

Qualitative Methods of Social Research – wrote grant proposal, secured funding (DAAD) and managed an international workshop with participants from Germany and three republics of Central Asia.

Various University of Central Asia Teacher Training workshops – initiated and organized training in interactive student centered methods of teaching for University lecturers in Tajikistan


'Tentacles’ of the State or How Soviet state imitated its presence in early Soviet Tajikistan, presented at the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), Washington DC, November 2011

The ‘Shahristan Affair’: sex, violence and claims for power in Soviet courts in Tajikistan 1930/1931
, presented at the 5. German-French Workshop “Gewaltkultur und Gewalterfahrung in der russischen Geschichte,“ Paris, September 2011

Images of Europe in Central Asia in the early twentieth century,
presented at the Workshop “Moderne - Integration - Expansion?” at the German Historical Institute Moscow in Cooperation with the Humboldt University, Moscow, June 2010

Muslim courts in early Soviet Tajikistan
presented at the Conference “Dynamics of Muslim Legal Pluralism Under Colonial Rule” at the Oriental Institute Halle, Halle, December 2010

European ‘Developers’ in Soviet Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s
, presented Conference “Helpless Imperialists. Imperial Failure, Radicalization and Violence” at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, Freiburg, January 2010

Death’ and ‘Mercy’ during institutionalization of the Tajik ASSR in 1920s and 1930s, presented at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association (LSA) and the Research Committee on Sociology of Law (RCSL), Berlin, June 2007

Living and Changing in Ak-Tyuz. Early Soviet Industrialization in northern Kyrgyzstan
, presented at the Conference “All politics is Local. All politics is local? Analyzing power in contemporary urban history" at the Technische Universität Darmstadt, Darmstadt, June 2006

Doing oral history in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan: memory and history of two riots of 1967
in Chimkent and Frunze, presented at the Graduate Student Conference ‘Four Empires and an Enlargement’ at the Department of East European Studies, University College London, London, November 2003


Acted as an expert for the Bertelsmanstiftung annual reporting on Tajikistan.

2004- 2007
Senior Editor of the Essex Human Rights Review (www.ehrr.org.uk)

2008 – 2009
Consulted the OSCE Academy Oral History project of the Tajik Civil War (trained interviewers, wrote interview manual and guide), wrote grant application for Ph.D. research to the Volkswagen Stiftung (grant confirmed), consulted international organizations such as the World Bank, Save the Children, Mission East, First Microfinance Bank in intercultural communication and development issues.

1999 – 2003
Co-founded and co-chaired Amnesty International Youth Group in Kyrgyzstan.


3 months at the Columbia University in New York

Field study trips to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and New York


- Mother-tongue
Kazakh – Grandmother-tongue
English – Fluent (primary work language)
German – Fluent
Tajik– Advanced


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