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Department of Social Anthropology


Founded in 1986 by Caroline Humphrey and Urgunge Onon, the Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit is a centre within the Department of Social Anthropology which supports 

interdisciplinary research and teaching relating to the great steppe region of Inner Asia, centred on Mongolia, including large parts of Siberia, Central Asia, Manchuria, and minority regions of China and Tibet.  MIASU supports collaborative and individual research projects  at postgraduate and higher levels and is committed to ‘hands-on’ research, operating through knowledge of local languages, in collaboration with Inner Asian scholars and institutions. Today, it is one of the very few research-oriented organisations in the world in which scholars specialize in the study of contemporary and historical developments in this distinctive region. 

The Unit owes its design and early success to the first Director, Professor Emerita Caroline Humphrey FBA, who in 2011 was awarded both the DBE for services to scholarship and the Mongolian Order of the Polar Star for her contribution to Mongolian studies. She remains central to the Unit’s activities and chairs the MIASU Steering Committee.  

Image: Professor Emerita Caroline Humphrey FBA


The current Director is Professor David Sneath who joined the Unit in its first year as a doctoral student studying pastoral Inner Mongolia. After a number of post-doctoral research positions at MIASU, and a lectureship in Oxford, he returned to the Department and MIASU in 2000 to take up the Directorship. He was shortly to be joined by two of the world’s leading experts on the region, Dr Hildegard Diemberger and Dr Uradyn Bulag to form a team that has remained at the academic core of the Unit ever since.  

  Image: Professor David Sneath   


Over the 35 years since its foundation the Unit has grown steadily, hosting a series of major interdisciplinary research projects, editing the leading international journal Inner Asia published by Brill, building its specialist library and a wide network of regional contacts. Many of the most prominent international scholars of the region have been doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers, or visiting scholars at MIASU.  

The Unit has seen two periods of major expansion in operations, both as a result of generous donations by the Sigrid Rausing Trust. The first began in 2003, when the Trust gave the funds needed to establish the Sigrid Rausing Scholarly Exchange programme, which has brought around four to six researchers from Inner Asia to MIASU every year, enriching the academic environment and expanding scholarly networks and opportunities for collaborative research. The trust also supported the establishment of a full-time administrative post leading to the appointment of Libby Peachey, whose skills and energy have been vital to the growth and success of MIASU. In 2018 Libby Peachey was awarded the Mongolian Presidential Medal of Friendship alongside Uradyn Bulag, who was awarded the Order of the Polar Star, for services to Mongolian studies.    

 Image: Libby Peachy being presented with the Mongolian Presidential Medal of Friendship by His Excellency Tulga Narkhuu, Ambassador of Mongolia to the UK, 2018.


The next phase of MIASU expansion is just beginning. With a second major donation the Trust has established an endowed chair – the Caroline Humphrey Professorship in the Anthropology of Inner Asia, along with a MIASU Postdoctoral Fellowship and Doctoral Studentship, so as to support three generations of scholarship. In September 2020 Dr Joe Ellis was awarded the MIASU Postdoctoral Fellowship and in February this year David Sneath was elected to the Caroline Humphrey Chair, commencing in September. The PhD Studentship will be awarded in the next few months. This is an enormously exciting time for MIASU. For the first time we will be able to set our own research agenda by aligning fully-funded research by doctoral, postdoctoral and mid-career scholars on topics of our own choosing.  

The MIASU community is larger and stronger than ever, including Prof Piers Vitebsky, Dr Tom White, Dr Uranchimeg Ujeed, Dr Baasanjav Terbish, Dr Elizabeth Turk, Dr Riam Knapp, Dr Sayana Namsaraeva, and Dr Joseph Bristley; in addition to student members and a wide network of affiliated and associate members. We are supported by an expanded administrative team comprising Chloe Gayer-Anderson and Anna Clayton, with Libby Peachey providing specialist publication and research management support. MIASU looks forward to building on our strengths, retaining and recruiting the best scholars of the region, and building exciting new research synergies in the future.