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Title: Permafrost Country: Eastern Siberia and the Making of a Soviet Science
Authors: Chu, Pey-Yi
Advisors: Kotkin, Stephen M.
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: earth science
environmental history
Lena River Valley
Republic of Sakha
Subjects: History
Russian history
History of science
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation argues that a specific conception of frozen earth as permafrost evolved as a result of political and economic considerations, and that a Soviet and eventually global science emerged from the unique space of eastern Siberia. Interactions with the land produced ideas that became part of universal ways of understanding the circumpolar North as well as the consequences of climate change. The origins of permafrost science lie in the region of northern Eurasia east of the Enisei River where European naturalists initially encountered a curious phenomenon: the ground remained frozen throughout the year to unknown depths, even when the atmospheric temperature was high. In the nineteenth century, this geophysical puzzle motivated expeditions to record measurements and descriptions of the land. At the same time, activities connected to the Russian colonization of eastern Siberia revealed frozen earth to be an obstacle for economic development and inspired attempts to study it systematically. Permafrost as a concept, and a formalized discipline to study it, first appeared in the USSR during the establishment of a command economy and centralization of science administration. In 1931, the Academy of Sciences defined frozen earth as ground having a negative temperature for two or more years and officially recognized <italic>vechnaia merzlota</italic>, or permafrost, as its scientific name, provoking objections about the term's accuracy from a geological standpoint. Gatekeepers of the new field enforced the definition, however, arguing that it served the engineering requirements of industrialization in the northern and eastern Soviet Union. Infrastructure construction in cold environments, including the design and building of roads, buildings, and water systems, became embedded within the science of frozen earth. When Americans and Canadians, during and after World War II, drew upon precedents in the USSR for engineering in high latitudes, Soviet concepts entered international discourse. A term that is now part of global environmentalism emerged in the context of building socialism under Stalin. The circumstances surrounding the birth of permafrost as an idea created enduring contradictions between a name that suggested longevity, a definition focused on its immediate condition, and perceptions of its instability and fragility.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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