Lecture with Dr. Amanda Wooden and Henry Misa: Amber, Pollen, Ice and Gold: A Multi-disciplinary Panel on Central Eurasian Climate, Environment and Society from Late Antiquity to the Present

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@ 4:00 pm - 5:15 pm

July 21, 2022 @ 4:00 pm – 5:15 pm

Amanda E. Wooden is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Wooden received a PhD in International Relations and Public Policy from Claremont Graduate University and a BA in Russian and Political Science from Syracuse University. Her research explores environmental policy, water politics, extractive industries, climate change, nationalism, protests, emotional political ecologies, and environmental justice in Central Asia and the United States. Her work has been published in Post-Soviet Affairs, Political Geography, PS: Political Science & Politics, Central Asian Survey, Ab Imperio, and various edited volumes. In 2017-18, Dr. Wooden served as president of the Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS). She is a 2018-current Fulbright Global Scholar, conducting research in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia following the political and cultural lives of Tien-Shan mountain glaciers over time.

Henry Misa is a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University, Department of History, specializing in premodern Central Asian history. His dissertation research focuses on socio-ecological relations and resources utilization during the Medieval Climate Anomaly.

The environment has played a key role in Central Eurasian history and continues to be of considerable economic and political importance for the region today. This week’s talk with be divided into two parts with contributions from two different presenters. Part one of the lecture by doctoral candidate Henry Misa will provide an almost two-thousand-year-long context for the modern climate crisis in Central Eurasia. Within that broader context we will zoom in on the multi-dimensional relationship between climate and society during the medieval period. This section of the lecture will cover three different topics. First, Misa will give an overview of climatic and environmental change in Central Eurasia stretching from around 400 to the 1960s. Second, we will turn towards a discussion of the ongoing debates within the historiography of climate and society in Central Eurasia with a focus on the medieval period. Finally, Misa will present a case study of how the Qarakhanid state (dawla) adapted to the medieval megadrought in the 11th and 12th centuries. This case study synthesizes together primary sources, archaeology, and paleoclimatology with implications for adaptation, resilience, and crisis, as well as economic and administrative history.

Part two of this lecture by professor Amanda Wooden brings together mining histories, political ecology, and modern environmental perceptions in Kyrgyzstan. The history of mining in Kyrgyzstan connects extractivist colonization, post-Soviet neoliberalism, and contemporary national climate change politics. During the aftermath of the Soviet Union disbanding, the Canadian mining company Cameco developed the largest productive gold field in Kyrgyzstan, Kumtor, the only open pit mine in the world removing glacial ice to access ore. This site is an international test case for mining as glaciers recede. Its nationalization completed in 2022 may be viewed as rejection of the imperial and neoliberal projects, though extraction continues to operate in this climate-impacted glaciated space. Key to local and national opposition to Kumtor was a re-emerged awareness of the glaciers upon which much of Central Asia depends. Wooden will outline conceptualizations of these mountains and glaciers over time, including today’s renewed socio-nature ideas competing with modernistic views of these lively geological bodies. She will briefly outline modern climate change impacts on the region’s glaciers. Finally, Wooden will discuss how cosmological ideas of nature without human bounds have come to be co-opted by the nation-state, utilized in arguments about national wealth and identity. The political life of glaciers and extraction in Kyrgyzstan is an important topic in the climate era, with insights and implications for Central Eurasia and the rest of the world.