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Permafrost and Transformations of Siberia

Permafrost and Transformations of Siberia

Climate Change in Central Asia Lecture by Pey-Yi Chu, Pomona College

Monday, October 22, 2018
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Charles E. Young Research Library Presentation Room

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This talk focuses on the historical development of understandings about permafrost and its connection to the colonization and industrialization of Siberia. How did interest in and encounters with Siberia shape scientific knowledge about frozen earth? In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, eastern Siberia was a laboratory for investigating the nature of cold. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it became the target of state-driven colonization and industrialization. These varying aims gave rise to multiple conceptions of frozen earth, from a physical-geographical structure to a condition, process, or space connected to exchanges of matter and energy in the earth's system. Delving into the history of exploration as well as tsarist and Soviet infrastructure projects, I argue that the transformation of Siberia gave rise to tensions in conceptions of permafrost that persist into the twenty-first century. The transformation of Siberia provides context for thinking about a phenomenon, permafrost, that has been labeled a "time bomb" and "Arctic methane monster" in contemporary discourse about climate change.

Pey-Yi Chu is a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union. Born in Taiwan and raised in the United States, she received her PhD from Princeton University. Her research aims to understand the environment and environmental change through the history of science and technology. This focus has led her to explore such topics as the history of the earth sciences, science policy, the politics of expertise, and the transnational circulation of ideas. Pey-Yi has held fellowships at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, and her work has appeared in Environmental History and Environment and History. Her first book, The Life of Permafrost: A History of Frozen Earth in Russian and Soviet Science will be published by University of Toronto Press.

Sponsor(s): Program on Central Asia, Center for European and Russian Studies