Advanced search


Full Text:


This article proposes that there is a need for a sustained engagement with and deconstruction of steppe imaginaries in Russian and Soviet literature in the twentieth century. It argues that “steppe” is not solely a term describing a particular environment, but also a pivotal idea which has shaped and shapes identities, cultural assumptions, political reasoning and even geopolitical thought. Based on the review of existing scholarship, the paper demonstrates the centrality of the steppe as a key imaginary for Russian history until the nineteenth century. However, it also reveals that the research on the relevance of such imaginaries for Russian and Soviet political history in the twentieth century is largely absent. Yet, it was during this period that the steppe environments underwent largescale transformations through processes of land reclamation, irrigation development and industrial agriculture.

About the Authors

E. Filep
Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg.
Russian Federation
PhD in Geography. Fribourg.

C. Bichsel
Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg.
Russian Federation

 Professor of Human Geography.



1. Barrett T. M. (1999). At the edge of empire: the Terek Cossacks and the North Caucasus frontier, 1700-1860. Boulder: Westview Press.

2. Bassin M. (1993). Turner, Solov’ev, and the ‘frontier hypothesis’: the nationalist signification of open spaces. The Journal of Modern History, 65(3), pp. 473-511.

3. Bassin M. (2000). Reading the Natural and the Social. In: Sargen G., ed., Nature as space: (re) understanding nature and natural environments. Ankara: METU Faculty of Architecture Press, pp. 1-11.

4. Bassin M. (2006). Imperial visions: nationalist imagination and geographical expansion in the Russian Far East, 1840-1865. New York: Cambridge University Press.

5. Bassin M., Ely C., and Stockdale M. K. (2010). Space, place, and power in modern Russia: essays in the new spatial history. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

6. Belyaeva I. (2009). Steppe in the structure of space of Turgenev’s and Goncharov’s proze. In: Kokovina N. and Stroganov M., eds., Wide steppe: the spatial images of Russian culture. Kursk: KGU., pp. 27-29 (in Russian).

7. Berdyaev N. (1990). The origin of Russian communism. Moscow: Nauka (in Russian).

8. Bichsel C. (2012). ‘The drought does not cause fear’. Irrigation history in Central Asia through James C. Scott’s lenses. Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest (RECEO), 44(1-2), pp. 73-108.

9. Bichsel C. (2017). From dry hell to blossoming garden. Metaphors and poetry in Soviet irrigation literature on the hungry steppe. Water History, 9(3), pp. 337-359.

10. Bolotova A. (2004). Colonization of nature in the Soviet Union: state ideology, public discourse, and the experience of geologists. Historical Social Research, 29(3) (109), pp. 104123.

11. Chibilev A. (1990). The face of the steppe: ecological-geographical sketches about the steppe zone of the USSR. Leningrad: Gidrometeoizdat (in Russian).

12. Chibilev A. (1997). Reserved steppes. Orenburg: Institute of Steppe, Russian Academy of Sciences (in Russian).

13. Chibilev A. and Grosheva O. (2004). The evolution of views on the steppe landscape in national geography. Vestnik of Voronezh State University, Geography, Geoecology №.1 pp. 51-57 (in Russian).

14. Chibilev A., ed. (2009). Steppe masterpieces. Orenburg: Orenburgskoe knizhnoe izd-vo. (in Russian).

15. Chibilev A., Bogdanov S. and Sdykov M. (2011). The phenomenon of the historicalgeographical continuity of nomadic empires in Eurasian steppes. Geography, Environment, Sustainability 4(2), pp. 72-84.

16. Costlow T. J. (2013). Heart-pine Russia: Walking and writing the nineteenth-century forest. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

17. Ely C. (2002). This meager nature. Landscape and national identity in Imperial Russia. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

18. Grosheva O. (2002). The development of geo-ecological ideas about the steppe landscapes of Northern Eurasia in XVIII-XX centuries. Orenburg: Institute of Steppe, Russian Academy of Sciences (in Russian).

19. Husband W. (2006). ‘Correcting nature’s mistakes’: transforming the environment and Soviet children’s literature, 1928-1941. Environmental History 11(2), pp. 300-318.

20. Khodarkovsky M. (2002). Russia’s steppe frontier: the making of a colonial empire, 15001800. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

21. Kliuchevskii V. (1906). A course of Russian history. Reprinted ed. 2016. St Petersburg: Alfaret (in Russian).

22. Landwehr A. (2008). Historische Diskursanalyse. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag.

23. Margolina S. (2014). Alle Wege führen nach Kiew. Neue Zürcher Zeitung 139, p. 51.

24. Moon D. (2008). The Russian steppes: an environmental history, 1700-1914. CRCEES Working Papers. Available at: [Accessed 20 July 2018].

25. Moon D. (2013). The Plough that broke the steppes. Agriculture and the environment on Russia’s grasslands, 1700-1914. Aldershot: Ashgate.

26. Neumann I. and Wigen E. (2013). The importance of the Eurasian steppe to the study of international relations. Journal of International Relations and Development, 16(3), pp. 311330.

27. O’Rourke S. (2000). Warriors and peasants: the Don Cossacks in late Imperial Russia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

28. Stroganov M. (2009). Landscape and identity of the ‘imagined communities. In: Kokovina N. and Stroganov M., eds., Wide steppe: spatial images of Russian culture. Kursk: KGU, pp. 7-29 (in Russian).

29. Sunderland W. (2004). Taming the wild field: colonization and empire on the Russian steppe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

30. Tolczyk D. (1999). See no evil: literary cover-ups and discoveries of the Soviet camp experience. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

31. Westerman F. (2003). Ingenieure der Seele. Schriftsteller unter Stalin - eine Erkundungsreise. Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag.

For citation:


Views: 98

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

ISSN 2071-9388 (Print)
ISSN 2542-1565 (Online)