In 1985 a group of scholars from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Great Britain, and Denmark, working within Central Asian Studies decided to establish informal cooperation with the purpose of promoting joint research and interdisciplinary studies among European scholars on Central Asia. The Department of Oriental Languages and Cultures of the University of Utrecht took the initiative to organise the first and founding conference of ESCAS, inviting also scholars from Central Asia.
The immidiate purpose of the conference was to define the geographic area of Central Asia which would be dealt with. It was agreed to include the Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as well as adjacent areas of Mongolia, Northern Iran, Northern Afghanistan and Northwestern China. A primary reason for establishing ESCAS was to give Central Asian Studies the status of a separate research field in its own right, independent of Soviet and Eastern European studies, to establish research links with disciplines working within the same historical and cultural continuum in adjacent areas, and to create opportunities for direct cooperation between scholars of the former Soviet Central Asia and scholars in adjacent areas.
It was agreed to hold conferences in order to maintain and develop European research cooperation and the exchange of information.
Since then the following conferences have taken place:
ESCAS II, London (1987), convened by the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
ESCAS III, Paris (1989), convened by Centre de Recherches Scientifiques en Sciences Sociales et Politiques, Paris.
ESCAS IV, Bamberg (1991), convened by the Department of Oriental Studies, University of Bamberg.
ESCAS V, Copenhagen (1995), convened by the Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near-Oriental Studies, University of Copenhagen, in collaboration with the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS).
ESCAS VI, Venice (1998), convened by "Universitaa Ca Foscari di Venezia" in Venice, Italy.
ESCAS VII, Vienna (2000), convened by the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Vienna.
ESCAS VIII, Bordeaux (2002), convened by the Maison des sciences de l’homme Aquitaine and Institut français d’Etudes sur l’Asie centrale (IFEAC)
ESCAS IX, Krakow (2005), convened by Jagiellonian University.
ESCAS X, Ankara (2007), convened by the Middle East Technical University
ESCAS XI, Budapest (2009), convened by the Asia Research Initiative at the Central European University.
ESCAS XII, Cambridge (2011), convened by the Cambridge Central Asia Forum.
ESCAS President 2011 - 13: Dr Alexander Morrison, (Liverpool)
Current ESCAS Board:
Professor Meruert Abusseitova (Almaty), Dr Alima Bissenova (Astana), Professor Ildiko Beller-Hann (Copenhagen), Dr Sally Cummings (St Andrews), Dr Gabriel McGuire (Astana), Professor Siddharth Saxena (Cambridge), Dr Anne-Marie Vuillemenot (Louvain).
Professor Touraj Atabaki (Leiden), Dr Zifa-Alua Auezova (Leiden), Professor Ayşe Güneş Ayata (Ankara), Professor Peter Finke (Zurich), Dr Matteo Fumagalli (Budapest), Dr Irina Morozova (Leiden), Professor Catherine Poujol (Paris), Dr Tommaso Trevisani (Berlin), Dr Cholpon Turdalieva (Bishkek).