2010 Fellows | February 2, 2013

SSRC Fellow Maya Peterson

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

Discipline: History

University at Time of Fellowship: Harvard University


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.