Based on extensive archival sources from Russia and Kazakhstan, this presentation examines Russian imperial attempts to “modernize” marriage practices among Kazakhs primarily through the production, circulation, and invocation of official marriage documents. The speaker will assess how the legitimacy of a marriage between Kazakhs came to depend on whether the marriage was or was not written into a metrical book maintained by an official imam. She will focus in particular on Inner Horde Kazakhs, who increasingly petitioned Russian imperial administrators with requests that they resolve complicated family affairs. To manage these requests, administrators in the Inner Horde came to accept the materiality of the metrical book data as indisputable proof of a marriage's legitimacy. Thus, when husbands lodged complaints about, for instance, runaway or abducted wives, administrators could easily dismiss them as groundless if the marriage had not been recorded in a metrical book. Similarly, the local population in this region came to understand that written documentation had superseded in importance the non-written, communal recognition of one's marital status.
Kimberly Ann Powers is a PhD candidate in the joint program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where she specializes in the history of modern Central Asia and Russia. Kimberly is currently completing her dissertation, “The Power of State Documents: Bureaucracy and the Transformation of Family and Gender Relations in 19th Century Kazakhstan,” which focuses on the development of a more bureaucratic administration in the 19th century Russian frontier and the concomitant increased state involvement in Kazakh family affairs. Kimberly is broadly interested in theories of imperialism and colonialism, histories of paperwork, anthropologies of the state, and modern histories of the interaction between humans and non-human animals.