Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, History, University of California / Santa Cruz

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2008
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Harvard University
Technologies of Rule: Empire, Water and the Modernization of Central Asia, 1860s-1940s

My dissertation uses an environmental historical approach, with a focus on water in particular, to investigate efforts by the Russian Empire and Soviet Union in the late-nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries to control Central Asian lands and peoples and develop a modern and civilized society on the frontiers of the empire. Tsarist and Bolshevik officials saw development projects such as canals and dams as a means of bringing civilization through superior European technology to this Asian part of the empire, yet on the ground these projects often embodied the ambivalences and tensions of modernity in the multiethnic Central Asian frontier region. By focusing on the sites of specific projects in the Central Asian landscape, the dissertation aims to illuminate Central Asian history at a regional and local level, rather than the view from Moscow. For this reason I plan to utilize extensively the central state archives of the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Yet my work also engages larger debates in Russian and Soviet history. By bridging the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, often taken as a dividing point, this dissertation will highlight often overlooked continuities between the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, thus contributing to a key debate in the field of Russian history on the imperial nature of the explicitly anti-imperial Soviet Union. It also places the attempt to modernize Central Asia within larger Eurasian and global contexts, emphasizing both Russia's place in an increasingly modern and global world, and Central Asia as a coherent geographical and cultural region that transcends the political boundaries that currently divide the region on both physical and mental maps. It will contribute to studies of Russian and Central Asian history, comparative empire and modernity, and the growing fields of environmental history and water sustainability.