"Combat in and with the Desert: Three Russian Travelogues about Turkmenia and Their Environmental Significance," invited talk at NYU's Jordan Center

  • Katharine Mansfield Holt (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


This talk explored the relationship between Russian imaginative writing about Central Asia and Russo-Soviet attempts to radically transform its desert territories. At the heart of the talk was an examination of three travelogues produced during key moments in the Russian colonization of Turkmenia: Nikolai Murav’ev’s Puteshestvie v Turkmeniiu i Khivu (Muraviev’s Journey to Khiva Through the Turcoman Country, 1819-20), Nikolai Karazin’s V nizov’iakh Amu (On the Lower Reaches of the Amu-Darya, 1875), and Mikhail Loskutov’s Rasskazy o dorogakh (Stories about Roads, 1935). Approaching colonization as an ecological phenomenon as well as a human one, Holt analyzed how each text presents the relationship between the individual traveler-author (a representative of an imperial state in each case) and “the sands” of Turkmenia. She offered specific conclusions about these texts and their contexts, but also suggested that there is an important through-line connecting them—and leading from them to a set of (environmentally catastrophic) Soviet attempts to remake the desert. Holt’s focus in this talk was on Murav’ev, Karazin, and Loskutov, but she contextualized her findings within the larger scholarship on Russian literature and empire, which has thus far paid relatively little attention to Central Asia and its environment.
Period12 May 2017
Held atUniversity of New York