The Life of Permafrost: A History of Frozen Earth in Russian and Soviet Science

By Pey-Yi Chu

© 2020

In the Anthropocene, the thawing of frozen earth due to global warming has drawn worldwide attention to permafrost. Contemporary scientists define permafrost as ground that maintains a negative temperature for at least two years. But where did this particular conception of permafrost originate, and what alternatives existed?

The Life of Permafrost provides an intellectual history of permafrost, placing the phenomenon squarely in the political, social, and material context of Russian and Soviet science. Pey-Yi Chu shows that understandings of frozen earth were shaped by two key experiences in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. On one hand, the colonization and industrialization of Siberia nourished an engineering perspective on frozen earth that viewed the phenomenon as an aggregate physical structure: ground. On the other, a Russian and Soviet tradition of systems thinking encouraged approaching frozen earth as a process, condition, and space tied to planetary exchanges of energy and matter. Aided by the US militarization of the Arctic during the Cold War, the engineering view of frozen earth as an obstacle to construction became dominant. The Life of Permafrost tells the fascinating story of how permafrost came to acquire life as Russian and Soviet scientists studied, named, and defined it.

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Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
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SKU# SP004734

  • AVAILABLE JAN 2021

    From: $56.25

    Regular Price: $75.00

    ISBN 9781487501938
  • AVAILABLE NOV 2020

    From: $56.25

    Regular Price: $75.00

Quick Overview

By tracing the English word permafrost back to its Russian roots, this unique intellectual history uncovers the multiple, contested meanings of permafrost as a scientific idea and environmental phenomenon.

The Life of Permafrost: A History of Frozen Earth in Russian and Soviet Science

By Pey-Yi Chu

© 2020

In the Anthropocene, the thawing of frozen earth due to global warming has drawn worldwide attention to permafrost. Contemporary scientists define permafrost as ground that maintains a negative temperature for at least two years. But where did this particular conception of permafrost originate, and what alternatives existed?

The Life of Permafrost provides an intellectual history of permafrost, placing the phenomenon squarely in the political, social, and material context of Russian and Soviet science. Pey-Yi Chu shows that understandings of frozen earth were shaped by two key experiences in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. On one hand, the colonization and industrialization of Siberia nourished an engineering perspective on frozen earth that viewed the phenomenon as an aggregate physical structure: ground. On the other, a Russian and Soviet tradition of systems thinking encouraged approaching frozen earth as a process, condition, and space tied to planetary exchanges of energy and matter. Aided by the US militarization of the Arctic during the Cold War, the engineering view of frozen earth as an obstacle to construction became dominant. The Life of Permafrost tells the fascinating story of how permafrost came to acquire life as Russian and Soviet scientists studied, named, and defined it.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
  • Author Information

    Pey-Yi Chu is an associate professor of history at Pomona College.
  • Table of contents

    Acknowledgments 

    Introduction: Historicizing Permafrost

    1. Mapping 
    The Cold of Eastern Siberia
    Birth of a Scientific Object
    From Boden-Eis to Eisboden

    2. Building
    Colonization and Construction
    Building on Frozen Earth
    The Soil Science of Roads
    The Ambiguity of Merzlota

    3. Defining
    Merzlota as Aggregate Structure
    Merzlota as Process
    Personal and Institutional Politics
    Vechnaia Merzlota in Bolshevik Culture

    4. Adapting
    From Commission to Institute
    Rhetoric of Transforming Nature
    Adapting to Frozen Earth
    Survival of the Systems Approach

    5. Translating
    Birth of Permafrost
    Criticism and Self-criticism
    From Merzlotovedenie to Geocryology
    The Dialectic Persists

    Epilogue: Resurrecting

    Glossary
    Bibliography

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