Bathsheba Demuth

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Department:
History
Term:
Fall 2014

My dissertation examines the Chukotka and Seward Peninsulas, half in Russia and half in Alaska - a space divided by national and ideological lines but united by a common ecological space. The project is framed around the human relationship to energy – to food, fuel, and the technologies that access both, in a landscape that is defined by its lack of energy, since most of the solar energy that underwrites biological life is reflected back into space at the poles. In the rough century between the 1880s and the 1980s, I look at how the energy-intensive, and constantly energy-acquisitive, industrial-era ideologies of capitalism and communism come to inhabit the Straits, attempting to exploit wildlife species from caribou to walrus, as well as minerals. I trace how ideology fundamentally shaped both the Russian/Soviet and American adventures in the Bering Straits, and the corresponding constraints the extreme environment placed on human action. Essentially, it’s a story of radical human ideological certainty slamming up against the realities of a place where energy scarcity makes ecological contingency very present, and with what consequences for people, place, and thinking.