The Emptying of the Plains: The Comanche and Kalmyk Nomads in the Shadow of Empire

Pierce, Nicholas
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This paper is a research project framework for a comparative history of the Comanche and Kalmyk nomads, focused specifically on their conflicts with the expanding United States and Russian Empire amidst the decline of nomadic independence. By utilizing a comparative view, this work positions these groups and their interactions in a larger understanding of the expansion and consolidation of these two European-dominated nation-states. Both nation-states pursued explicit courses of expansion, creating huge areas of frontier that ran up against a common obstacle, the enormous grasslands of North America and Eurasia, and the horse riding nomads that called them home. This research utilizes first-hand accounts and the work of historians, exploring the parallel process of the destruction of independent nomadic political power. The similarities between the Comanche and Kalmyk experiences of state-nomad conflict appear striking, particularly in the context of attempts by the modern US and Russian governments to portray themselves as historical opposites. The sources paint a different picture, where American and Russian settler encroachment and state action led to the geographic confinement and political disempowerment of previously powerful nomad groups in a remarkably similar way. These research findings argue for a genuine transcontinental approach to frontier and the history of state-nomad conflicts to illuminate the structure of empire on two continents.