Program

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships , Mellon/ACLS Recent Doctoral Recipients Fellowships

Project

Empire of Extinction: Nature and Natural History in the Russian North Pacific, 1739-1799

Project

Empire of Extinction: Nature and Natural History in the Russian North Pacific, 1739-1867

Location

For residence at the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities

Empire of Extinction: Nature and Natural History in the Russian North Pacific, 1739-1799

This dissertation focuses on Russia's empire-building in Kamchatka, the Aleutian Islands, and Alaska from 1739-1800. It describes the natural world—the North Pacific's climate, plants, and animals—and how the process of producing knowledge of the natural world affected Russian expansion and exploitation of the region. The project also examines the ways in which Russia's empire-building, primarily through the fur trade, changed North Pacific nature. While Russian expansion into the North Pacific caused dramatic environmental change, including the extinction of the sea cow and the near extinction of the sea otter, it also spawned an early critique of environmental destruction, shaped by the Empire’s cosmopolitanism.

Empire of Extinction: Nature and Natural History in the Russian North Pacific, 1739-1867

This research project builds on the dissertation, extending the timeframe into the middle of the nineteenth-century when the environmental critiques developed in the eighteenth century bore fruit as full-fledged colonial conservation movements. British and American fur-traders now joined the Russians in a large-scale hunt of sea otters and fur seals, and these animals' decline reached crisis proportions from Kamchatka down to Vancouver Island. Unique among European powers in the region, the Russian Empire enacted serious and effective conservation measures of fur-bearing animals. The Empire's natural historians played a vital role in this process, alerting Russia to the scope of the decline, and proposing measures based upon their growing understanding of marine ecology.