In the autumn of 1833, the vast Illinois frontier, which had been sparsely visited by Anglo-Americans, began to be occupied by settlers lured to the region by good soil and the recent removal of Native Americans.  Settlers from New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and as far away as Europe migrated to the fertile prairies of northern Illinois in hopes of establishing a new life.  They chose to leave behind organized communities with established markets for a chance to build new ones.  The settlers were beset with a multitude of challenges, but their determination and fortitude were based on a willingness to succeed.  To accomplish this goal, they also had to create a local market.  Between 1833 and the arrival of the railroads in 1852, how did the settlers create the local market, how did it grow, and what was it based on?  The creation of a local market forced settlers to develop social, economic, and labor relations with one another.  The commercial relationship with other young communities, such as Chicago and Ottawa, was also crucial to the development of the local markets forming in the region.

The land encompassing southern DeKalb County and northern LaSalle County, or the lower Fox River Valley, provides an arguably unique sub-region to study the development of local markets, as well as the relationship with the other markets.  From this specific sub-region, settlers, unlike most of northern Illinois, had a choice of two markets with direct access to navigable waters.  Which market did the settlers in this specific area choose and why?  The choice could be based on commodity values at the market, transportation, or both.  The development of transportation in this region grew not only with the market, but because of it.  What role did transportation play in the development of commerce in the study region?

Scholars have categorized the northern part of the state of Illinois, outside of Chicago and Galena, as an undifferentiated region in the mid-nineteenth century.  While similarities within the region can be seen in the joys and hardships of day-to-day lives, certain geographic locations offered some groups of settlers better access to local and more distant markets.  The specific region of study, the lower Fox River Valley, contained a representative sample of the settlers of northern Illinois that had both the Great Lakes and the Illinois River at their disposal for the distribution of crops and goods.  It was not until the railroads crisscrossed the state that Chicago could finally claim dominance over the vast hinterlands.  By examining primary sources from the region and era as well as analyzing various demographic evidence, the study will demonstrate how the settlers in this region developed their local market and made connections with more distant ones.  Finally, by reviewing these findings and comparing them with various secondary sources, the study will also determine how this region fits into the historiographical debate as to the capitalist intentions of this particular generation of settlers from this region.

As a Political Science major with an emphasis in International Politics, my primary focus rests with the countries of Central Asia. For the first 22 years of my life, I lived in Russia where I came to encounter people of many different nationalities, including Central Asians, who were compelled to assimilate to a Russian-centric society under Soviet rule. My former home-city of Omsk is near Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which allowed me to travel to those places and admire their cultures. I also went to school with children of Kazakh, Tajik, Uzbek, and Kirgiz families; and many of my neighbors and my friends were Central Asians. Their generosity, enduring spirit, and cultural uniqueness won my heart.

My project seeks to understand the changes that have taken place since the political independence of the Central Asian region in the early 1990’s, including national leaders’ encouragement of traditional roles for women and the resulting gender gaps in almost all spheres of life. I understand that I cannot solve the world’s problems, but I feel morally obligated to relieve the suffering of women wherever it exists.   I feel true compassion and personal responsibility to those who do not have a voice.  I believe that all women have certain inalienable rights that cannot be legitimately withheld under the façade of religious or cultural “laws” or “traditions.” It has long been recognized that ensuring women’s human rights is essential to a society’s overall growth and development. The United States is founded on democratic principles. However, I have witnessed that the United States often chooses to assist particular countries based on its national security interests rather than concern for the individual rights and liberties of people living in those countries. In my opinion, the lack of adequate American support and tangible actions on behalf of women in Central Asia constitute a human rights violation.

Living in a democracy for the last 10 years has made me appreciate liberties that I did not enjoy in my homeland. It also afforded me the capacity to care about others, and the strength to make a difference. I would like to dedicate the rest of my life to seeking universal equality and to fight women oppression, starting with an improvement of conditions for women in Central Asia.

In the words of one of the greatest cellists of all-time, Pablo Casals:Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated, but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.” My study on the status of women in contemporary Central Asia is motivated by this inspiring perspective.

The existence of the Central Asian region dates back to the days of Genghis Khan and Khan Tamerlane. Their conquests and triumphs from the 13th to the 15th centuries provided them power and influence over a large territory, yet very little is known about this part of the world.  Presently, Central Asia is comprised of five countries: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, which encompasses a vast area from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north.  My research project examines the status of women’s rights in Central Asian countries.  There is considerable academic research on women rights, equality, and representation in post-communist Eastern and Central Europe, but little scholarly work on the subject as it relates to Central Asia.

The five Central Asian states have all had difficult economic and societal transitions following their political independence in 1991 and face uncertain futures. This is especially true with regards to the significant issue of women’s rights. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, women began losing ground as traditional gender stereotypes returned to the newly independent countries of Central Asia. Without Soviet rule, women have found themselves increasingly unable to advocate for education, equitable working conditions, and political representation. Despite these setbacks, hope remains, as women continue to make progress in places such as Afghanistan, where an unprecedented number of women hold seats in the new parliament.

My study asks:  What role does the government play in shaping, defining, and legitimizing of women rights in Central Asia? I also examine the leaders of these countries and the political atmosphere of each independent republic. My primary concern is twofold.  I wish to evaluate the institutional, social, and cultural factors that have led to the regression of women’s rights.  In addition, I seek to identify particular cases and practices in which the presence or absence of governmental involvement suggests the deterioration of equal opportunities and the legitimate status of women. My study will examine the years, 1991 to 2012.

The countries of Central Asia have adopted numerous laws to protect women’s rights. In reality, however, such legislation has been enacted to please the international community.  No meaningful, practical measures have been taken to improve women’s rights. Women still disproportionately suffer lack of access to health care; they are subjected to considerable domestic violence; they are denied opportunities to work outside the home, or they endure unequal pay; and women often suffer unfair treatment before the law. Women’s empowerment, their leadership, education, engagement in economics, and equal representation are the keys to success for building equitable, sustainable growth; just, modern societies; and legitimate, well-functioning democracies. Such a transition will also improve the quality of life around the globe given women represent roughly half of the world’s population.