Natural Resources in the History of Russia: Economic Institutes, Communities of Experts, and Infrastructures.
Julia Lajus and team, HSE, St Petersburg
The proposed project will make a significant contribution to the growing international scholarship in environmental history from a European as well as a global perspective. The environmental history of Russia will be analysed within an interdisciplinary framework incorporating a range of fields from across the humanities and social sciences. The project is directed towards the radical advancement of current academic narratives concerning the history of Russia with specific reference to the problems of natural resource use, climate processes, and perceptions and constructions of nature, resources and landscapes. New knowledge which will be gained as a result of the collaborative work of historians who all specialize in the environmental and technological history of Russia, will enhance significantly our understanding of the processes of interaction between people and nature in the past and facilitate the incorporation of such understanding within contemporary political and decision-making processes concerning the rational use of nature and of natural resources.
This knowledge about past events has the potential to inform and shape contemporary understanding and associated policy decision-making and address issues of path dependency. Indeed, modern research in environmental history consistently demonstrates that the past which is revealed and analysed using the methodology of environmental history is one of the leading examples of what can be termed the ‘usable past’ i.e. knowledge and understanding of the past which has a practical relevance for addressing contemporary problems.
The project will combine rigorous data collection and analysis of historical sources with the latest theoretical ideas in the field of environmental history thus representing a novel and substantial contribution to the disciplinary area.
Analysis of the relationship between society and nature in historical perspective forms a core area of research in the field of environmental history. This direction of historical studies has emerged as a well-defined and innovative sub discipline of history during the last 20 years and is rapidly developing. However, in Russia this area of historical research remains limited in its development and little studied by professional historians. Traditional divisions between scientific disciplines in Soviet and post-Soviet science, the emphasis places on traditions in knowledge production, and the reproduction of scientific schools – all these trends facilitate the amplification of traditional fields of history at the expenses of new developments. This leads to a situation where the history of resource use as well as the history of our perception of nature, landscapes, and even climate history have been pushed to the periphery of historical research and typically merged with historical geography, which in the context of Russian historical scholarship is considered as a subsidiary discipline.
However, for those who are involved in responsible decision-making in the political and economic sphere related to use of natural resources and landscape management, an understanding of the changing relationship between society and nature over time is of considerable value: How did technologies mediate this relationship? What issues emerged as a consequence of society-nature interaction? How were such consequences managed?. This knowledge about past events has the potential to inform and shape contemporary understanding and associated policy decision-making and address issues of path dependency. Indeed, modern research in environmental history consistently demonstrates that the past which is revealed and analysed using the methodology of environmental history is one of the leading examples of what can be termed the ‘usable past’ i.e. knowledge and understanding of the past which has a practical relevance for addressing contemporary problems.
At the moment search for new approaches to the study of the past are actual as never before. Russia is looking for its place in the changing world and is referring to the past basing its identity on the meanings and ideas found and accepted from this past. That’s why it is so important to renew powerful instruments of historical research and analysis. Meanwhile enormous massive of historical data existing now includes implicitly a plenty of context linked to the problems of interaction between the society and the natural resources. The new component of historical analysis connected to the research of the history of this interaction will create new possibilities of understanding of the past as it makes the understanding of the history of our country far more complete and multidimensional. Consequently the prognosis for further development will become more fundamental and efficient.
This is especially important today when Russia, like many other countries, obviously approaches to the next crossroads in the economic development when the further growth depends to a great extent from our understanding and mastering the rules of life on this planet which is obviously not fare from the limits of its potential (planetary boundaries). This is directly connected to the global environmental changes in particular conditioned by the climate change. It is especially necessary to stress that our research will be focused predominantly on the key moments of the Russian history when the changes of interrelations between the society and the environment were very fast. The further comparative research in the competence of the environmental history to the other historical processes will open the possibility to achieve a new level of understanding on the reasons and consequences in the history of Russia and will make the perspectives more clear.
The objective of the proposed project is twofold: first, to study the environmental history of Russia and Soviet Union from 17th Century until 1991 from an interdisciplinary perspective (combining environmental history with economic and technological history, institutional analysis, the history of science, political sciences, especially geopolitics, and cultural history) and second, to create a strong, robust and long-term network of historians specialized in environmental history and with a focus on Russia.
The scientific agenda is built up around the following main axes:
- the circulation of knowledge including the role of expert cultures, foreign academic cultures and new scientific disciplines which have influenced the construction of knowledge about the environment from the 17th Century until the end of the Cold War.
- changing perceptions of the environment and its economic, social and cultural impact incorporating the observation and measurement of Nature and natural processes as well as the utilization and management of natural resources (including areas such as urban planning, pulp and paper production and mining industries.)
- the role of economic institutes of different level in environmental history.
- the creation and evolution of infrastructures, necessary for examining and using natural resources by various actors, i.e. as developing research facilities, industrial mechanisms, etc.