Watering the Soviet Lands

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This week’s podcast is the first of five events for Nature’s Revenge: Ecology, Animals, and Waste in Eurasia, the Spring 2021 Speakers’ Series at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

The desiccation of the Aral Sea is one of the greatest environmental catastrophes of the late twentieth century. But efforts to harness and divert the Aral’s freshwater are rooted in efforts to use technology to terraform the landscape in the modern era. Using water to irrigate a wasteland was a hallmark of modernity, progress, productivity, and prosperity. Water was also emblematic of the colonial infrastructure of Russia and the Soviet Union. Here’s Maya Peterson and Christopher Ward to discuss the role of water in the wider environmental history of the Soviet project.


Maya Peterson is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research and teaching interests include Russian and Central Asian history, as well as the history of the environment, science, technology, and medicine. She’s the author of Pipe Dreams: Water and Empire in Central Asia’s Aral Sea Basin published by Cambridge University Press.

Christopher Ward is a Professor of History at Clayton State University. He is the author of a number of publications, most notably Brezhnev’s Folly: The Building of BAM and Late Soviet Socialism published by University of Pittsburgh Press and co-author of Russia: A Historical Introduction from Kievan Rus’ to the Present published by Westview Press.


Skinny Puppy, “Burnt With Water,” Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse.