Bathsheba Demuth, The Power of Place: Modern Ideology and Arctic Ecology in the Bering Straits, 1848-1988
My dissertation is a historical examination of the marine and terrestrial space of the Bering Straits, a region united by ecology but divided, in the 20th century, by politics and ideology. From the 1850s through the last years of the Soviet Union, my research compares how communist and capitalist development impacted, and was impacted by, the region’s challenging ecology. I examine how modern states – which depend upon energy-intensive industry and agricultural production – function in a place with little solar gain or fossil fuel. Additionally, I explore the assumptions and impacts of communism and capitalism, ideologies that hinged on industrial development. As a result, both used energy intensively and reshaped local environments at a large scale. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. were major contributors to what some geologists term the Anthropocene, an era of profound, human-driven change, and a new field of research across disciplines. My project is a history of the arrival of the Anthropocene in the far north.
My project also examines human adaptations and responses to climatic constraints and variability, with a specific eye toward how political frameworks influenced local-level decisions and federal policy creation. In this regard, the Bering Straits offer a case study in adaptation and resiliency, as well as the pratfalls of ideologically-driven goals and assumptions. My goal is show how environmental factors shape sovereignty, to explore how energy – from the calories in caribou to crude oil – are critical to modern politics, and to illustrate the extents and limits of capitalist and communist ideology to contend with non-human actors.
Bathsheba Demuth is an incoming assistant professor of environmental history at Brown University. She is the Assistant Director of HistoricalClimatology.com and the Climate History Network.