Photo of Dr Beatrice Penati

Dr Beatrice Penati

Lecturer in Russian and Eurasian History History

Research

To feed and to mobilise: economic policy and agrarian change in early Soviet Uzbekistan.

This project looks at land reforms and State-promoted agrarian change in Uzbekistan from the establishment of Soviet rule to the beginning of the collectivisation drive. It intends to provide some background for contemporary developments in intellectual history and national identification which scholarship has been focusing on so far. On the basis of printed sources and of administrative and Party documents from Moscow and Tashkent, the project examines early Soviet attempts to legislate on land and water usage in the parts of Central Asia where sedentary agriculture was dominant. It then focuses on the genesis, decision-making process, and implementation of the land-and-water reform which took place in several 'waves' between 1925 and 1927. The effects of the reform are assessed on different levels: the project addressed in particular changes in the acreage of tilled land and in the crop mix, the 'capturing' of the peasants through the co-operative system and cotton-procurement agencies, and the emergence of class labels. Challenges posed to the task of restoring irrigation systems and building new ones are considered in relation to population movements, which explain the different outcomes of such projects in each province. A close-up study of these economic policies allows a re-evaluation of the role of the republican leadership and local power dynamics, while attention to the peculiarities of the Central Asian cotton economy suggests how the standard periodisation of Soviet history in the 1920s is misleading when applied to this region.

The book is currently under review.

Capitalism, empire, and common-pool resources in Tsarist Turkestan

This project is designed as a micro-historical study of the exploitation of a variety of wormwood (Artemisia cina) which abundantly grew -and grows- in the vicinity of Chimkent (now southern Kazakhstan) in the last four decades of Russian colonial rule in Central Asia. In the period under consideration, this wormwood was the essential raw material for the production of one of the most often prescribed anthelmintic (i.e. vermifuge) drugs worldwide. This project uses archival documents from Saint Petersburg, Tashkent, and Almaty to trace the history of the first chemical plant in the region, to situate it (and the wormwood it processed) in global trade networks that ranged from Switzerland to Japan, and above all to analyse the clash that opposed its owners and the native Kazakh population around their rights on the land where this plant spontaneously grew. The story of Artemisia cina in Chimkent sits at the intersection of a variety of wide-ranging historical questions: the discovery of alkaloids for drug production and the emergence of some "big pharma" companies (e.g. Merck), the nature of capitalism in late Tsarist Russia and the role of the state in it, the history of conservationism and "green imperialism", and transformations in the way the native Kazakhs, the Russian metropolitan government, the local civil-military administration, and private industrialists conceptualised rights and claims on this specific common-pool resource. This leads to a wider assessment of the struggle around land, water, forests, and underground resources in the late colonial period. It also allows to re-integrate Central Asia from its supposedly marginal position within global capitalist networks well beyond the usual emphasis on cotton.

Primary research for this project is now completed. First results have been presented over the past few years in Bishkek (CASI, AUCA), at the ICEEES conference in Makuhari, and at Leiden University's Central Asian Initiative.