Book Launch – Pipe Dreams: Water and Empire in Central Asia’s Aral Sea Basin
March 16, 2021
Virtual book launch hosted by the Central Asia Program at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University on March 15, 2021.
Pipe Dreams explores the ways in which both the tsarist and Soviet regimes used fantasies of bringing the deserts to life as a means of claiming legitimacy in Central Asia, a process that ultimately led to the drying up of Central Asia’s Aral Sea. Maya Peterson argues that the disappearance of the Aral Sea, considered one of the worst environmental catastrophes of the late twentieth century, is deeply rooted in the dreams of the irrigation age of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when not only Russians and Bolsheviks, but engineers, scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs around the world united in the belief that universal scientific knowledge, together with modern technologies, could be used to transform large areas of the planet from ‘wasteland’ into productive land. The implications of this broader understanding of the Aral Sea disaster – the transnational aspects of which have often been overlooked in narratives focused on the hubris and folly of communist gigantomania and Soviet disregard for the environment – serve as a reminder that wise water management remains one of our greatest challenges today.