The flow of industrialization: water in the history of the Russian Empire and USSR (18th - 20th centuries)

The flow of industrialization: water in the history of the Russian Empire and USSR (18th - 20th centuries)

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Higher School of Economics)
Higher School of Economics
Gefördert durch
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Saint Petersburg
Russian Federation
Vom - Bis
10.10.2022 - 11.10.2022
Andrei Vinogradov, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

An international workshop organized by the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the Higher School of Economics will be held in Saint Petersburg (Russia) on October 10-11, 2022. The deadline for submissions is 15 May 2022.

The flow of industrialization: water in the history of the Russian Empire and USSR (18th - 20th centuries)

As Donald Worster, one of the founders of environmental history claimed, “what we do to nature or rivers or water, we do to ourselves”. Any transformation of the environment implies a corresponding transformation of society, and this is especially true for such an important resource as water, whose management has always been among the priorities of every state. The history of water, including its resources and infrastructures, is one of the most developed topics in environmental history, and Russia is not an exception anymore: several scholars have recently paid attention to the history of rivers, lakes, and seas in the context of the economic and political development of the Russian state. This research direction was conceptualized in different ways: through studying sea- and river-based, or considering opposite manifestations of water as a resource or a threat for the society.

We, in turn, propose to focus on the role that water played in Russia's industrial development from the Proto-industrialization over the Industrial Revolution to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the rare occasion when the human species alters the framework of its existence (P. Stearns, J. Hinshaw) and marking the beginning of the transition to the Anthropocene, industrialization was an important milestone in water history. Empires acquired unprecedented opportunities to change river networks and extract energy from water, but in these processes, they also transformed themselves. In this regard, industrialization was also a lodestar of green thought (J. Moore) that offered a new perspective on relations between human and water environment. Focusing on the still underexplored experience of Russia and the USSR, and not limiting the ‘water’ to its form and state (river or sea, ice or liquid), we aim to approach the subject from three angles: infrastructures, pollution, and resources, including their intersections in the fields of urban environmental management, hydropower, anti-pollution policies, and environmental movements. We will consider not only natural and technological but also the cultural realm of water: how it was perceived by contemporaries, and how these perceptions are reflected in literature and art. Approaching the water and industrializing Russian/Soviet society, we ask: how these intervening and dynamic forces influenced each other, and how the ways of their interaction affected the development of the Russian state from the 18th to the end of the 20th century.

The workshop is a joint initiative of the Ludwig-Maximilians University (Munich) and the Higher School of Economics (Saint Petersburg) funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. A two-day event will take place in Saint Petersburg from October 10 to 11, 2022. The organizing committee has limited funding to cover travel and accommodation fees for the participants. To apply, please send your CV and an abstract (200-300 words) by 15 May 2022 via email: The working language is English.


Prof. Dr. Julia Herzberg, professor for History of East-Central Europe/Russia in the Pre-Modern Period, LMU Munich,;

Andrei Vinogradov, research associate, LMU Munich,;

Prof. Dr. Julia Lajus, associate professor, head of Laboratory for Environmental and Technological History, Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg,