SSRC Fellow Maya Peterson

Technologies of Rule: Empire, Water and the Modernization of Central Asia, 1867-1941"

Current Position: College Fellowship in the History of Science Department, Harvard University

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My dissertation is an environmental historical approach to the history of Central Asia under Russian rule. Using archival sources from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia, it examines the ways in which first tsarist and later Bolshevik efforts to change the physical landscapes of Central Asia intersected with Russian imperial and Soviet notions of civilization, progress and modernity. The dissertation focuses in particular on the manipulation of water, which has always been a crucial and contested resource in Central Asia. By focusing on the control of water, the dissertation enables an examination of the complex dynamics of power relations in this multiethnic frontier region. An environmental historical approach allows the history of Central Asia to be placed into a larger Eurasian geographical and cultural context, while encouraging the comparison of Central Asia to other imperial borderlands and Russian modernization efforts on the frontier to similar projects the world over. Understanding the ways in which water in Central Asia was managed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can help policymakers to better understand tensions over water in the region today and to choose the tools that will be most effective in addressing water problems in Eurasia in the future.

Current Interests and projects:
Paper in progress: “White Gold Fever: The Quest to Grow Cotton in Central Asia.” American Historical Association annual meeting 2012.

Paper in progress: “Foreign Expertise, Local Practice: Hierarchies of Knowledge in the Russian Irrigation of Central
Asia.” Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies annual meeting 2011.

“‘Native’ Rice, American Cotton, and the Struggle for Water in Central Asia Under Russian Rule.” Central Eurasian Studies Society annual meeting  2011