Imperial Plow: Settler Colonialism in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union

May 1 to 2, 2023

Conference Schedule 

Location: Henry R. Luce Hall, Rm 203, (2nd fl.) 34 Hillhouse Ave.

Monday, May 1, 2023 

9:00 AM  Breakfast

10:00 -10:15 AM  Welcome By Hosts: Professors Claire Roosien and Edyta Bojanowska of Yale University

10:15-12:00 PM  Panel 1:  Theories and Temporalities

  • Discussant: Jane Burbank (New York University)
  • Chair: Nana Osei Quarshie (Yale University)
  • Michael Khodarkovsky (Loyola University, Chicago), “The Cannon and the Plow: Transforming Imperial Frontiers into Colonial Borderlands”
  • Sergei Glebov (Smith College), “Paradoxes of Settler Colonialism: Imperial Far East, 1850-1940”
  • Timm Schönfelder (Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe), “Transhumance Submerged. Adyghe Traditions and Socialist Modernity along the Kuban River”

12:00-1:30 PM  Lunch

1:30-3:15 PM  Panel 2:  Narratives

  • Discussant: Sam Hodgkin (Yale University)
  • Chair: Priyasha Mukhopadhyay (Yale University)
  • Colleen Lucey (University of Arizona) and Dana Brouillard (Columbia University), “‘There is Justice for You Here’: Settler Colonialism in Vladimir Korolenko’s ‘Makar’s Dream’”
  • Brian Yang (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), “Reading across the Bering Strait: Decolonizing Land, Love, and Kinship”
  • Eeva Kuikka (Tampere University), “The Imperial Drill: Oil Extraction as a Form of Settler Colonial ‘Slow Violence’ in Yeremei Aipin’s novel Khanty, or the Star of the Dawn”

3:15-4:00 PM  Coffee Break

4:00-5:30 PM  Keynote Address by

Willard Sunderland, Henry R. Winkler Professor of Modern  History (University of Cincinnati)

  • “The Russian Guide to Colonization Management: A Treatise by Titular Councilor Andrei Ivanovich Korotich”

A fictional but true-to-life middle-level Russian bureaucrat spends his career filing reports on peasant resettlement. Along the way he keeps a private record of everything, including his conversations with colonists, natives, and the occasional noble landowner, and, in time, distills his notes into a candid assessment for his fellow officials. His views, however unpalatable to us, are completely untroubling to him. He sees settlers as conniving shysters, nomads as ignorant children (or worse), the southern steppe as promising but still half-civilized, and Siberia as a wilderness. He has little faith in the ministry’s ability to manage the process and serious doubts about the civilizing mission, not because it’s a mistaken idea but because the empire doesn’t have enough Germans to pull it off.  At the same time, colonization is a natural phenomenon – it’s what all dynamic countries do. Plus, the Russians have a knack for it, so it needs to be encouraged. He is certain that his readers will agree with his first postulate: Russian colonization is good for everyone… 

Based on evidence from actually existing archival sources, this talk examines the imaginary treatise of the non-existent Korotich as a window on the colonizing brain of the Russian state in the mid-19th century. In the process, it raises questions about Russian colonization but also about how to decolonize our understandings of the process.  

Willard Sunderland is the Henry Winkler Professor of Modern History at the University of Cincinnati.  A specialist on the history of the Russian empire, he has written widely on topics relating to Russian colonization and tsarist imperial society, including Taming the Wild Field: Colonization and Empire on the Russian Steppe (Cornell, 2004) and The Baron’s Cloak: A History of the Russian Empire in War and Revolution (Cornell, 2014). His most recent book, which appeared shortly before the outbreak of the war, is an edited volume on the history of Russian regions during the imperial era. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

8:00 AM  Breakfast

9:00-10:45 AM  Panel 3:  Settler Administrations

  • Discussant: Doug Rogers (Yale University)
  • Chair: Nurfadzilah Yahaya (Yale University)
  • Aminat Chokobaeva (Nazarbayev University), “’Peaceful Cohabitation is Only Possible on the Condition of Creating National Minority Districts’: Ethnic Conflict, Administrative Reforms, and Resource Distribution in Stalinist Central Asia”
  • Victoria Donovan (University of St. Andrews), “Mapping the ‘Wild Field’: The Cartographic Pre-history of Settler Colonialism in the Ukrainian Steppe”
  • Alexander Semyonov (Amherst College), “Tensions of the Colonializing and Federalizing Empire: The Debates in the Russian Imperial State Duma, 1906-1911”

10:45-11:00 AM  Break

11:00-12:45 PM Panel 4:  Beyond Russians

  • Discussant: Hannah Shepherd (Yale University)
  • Chair: Mieka Erley (Colgate University)
  • Aileen Friesen (University of Winnipeg), “State Violence, Mennonite Settlers, and Structures of Power in the North Caucasus”
  • Jonathan Dekel-Chen (Hebrew University), “Civilizing the Steppes: Accidental Jewish Surrogates for Colonialism”
  • Oleksandr Polianichev (Södertörn University), “’Little Russians’ as Hardly Russians: The Colonization of Circassia and the Origins of Russia’s Ukrainian Question”

12:45-1:45 PM  Lunch

1:45-3:30 PM  Panel 5:  Settler Colonial Encounters

  • Discussant: Peter Rutland (Wesleyan University)
  • Chair: Nari Shelekpayev (Yale University)
  • Abby Schrader (Franklin and Marshall College), “Disordered Bodies in the Borderlands: Gender, Sex, Ethnicity, and the Problem of Setting Siberia”
  • Chechesh Kudachinova (Mannheim University), “Golden Pocket Watches and the ‘Russian House’: Exploring Settler Colonialism in the Altay Mountains, 1870s-1910s”
  • Marina Mogilner (University of Illinois - Chicago), “The Problem of ‘Settler Colonialism’ through the Lens of the Multan Case”

3:30-4:15 PM  Coffee Break

4:15-5:30 PM  Closing Discussion (conference participants only)