Rick Miller, a graduate student in Geography, spent the year studying settled nomads and Mongolian language in Ulaanbaatar
by Rick Miller
In the context of cultural geography, I study mobility; how people move about the landscape. My dissertation investigates nomads who have left behind their traditional mobility on the Mongolian steppe to partake of new mobilities available in the country’s only city, Ulaanbaatar. I conduct field-research at the outer edges of the city, in a zone where land and the people who inhabit it are transitioning from a past in the pastoral countryside to an increasingly urbanized future. These ger districts, so named for their inhabitants’ continued reliance on the traditional tent, even as they construct more sedentary forms of housing, are also home to a new relationship with the land. A grass-roots program I have been observing teaches former herders to grow produce in the ger districts. On the one hand, this kind of agricultural production valorizes the sedentarization process, but on the other hand, the employment and ability to raise food provides former herders with alternative forms of economic, educational, and social mobility. What has been most interesting to witness is how the shifting mobilities have manifested in cultural transformations: conceptions of food, the body, and health are immediate to the pastoral and agricultural means of production, but further implicated are such broad social constructs as the conception of landscape and national identity. Through a FLAS fellowship administered by the UCLA Asia Institute, I have been able to spend the year studying language and culture at the National University of Mongolian while concurrently using these skills to interact with people at my study site in the ger districts.
The UCLA Asia Institute awards annual Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to graduate students working on topics and languages of East Asia. In 2008-09, Rick Miller, a graduate student in the Geography department, received a FLAS to study Mongolian at the National University of Mongolia for the academic year. Click here for more information about the East Asian FLAS fellowships at UCLA.