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Space, image and display in Russian Central Asia, 1881-1914

Keating, JM; (2016) Space, image and display in Russian Central Asia, 1881-1914. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis investigates the relationship between environment and empire in late tsarist Central Asia, and suggests that the making and unmaking of space was integral to the imperial experience. It contends that land and its representation were crucial to processes undertaken on local and imperial scales to re-fashion parts of Central Asia from a ‘vast’, ‘alien’ and ‘inhospitable’ colony into an integrated frontier of empire. In examining the environment as a site for the physical enactment and negotiation of Russian rule, the chapters investigate how imperial settlers interacted with the region’s built and natural landscapes, through the planning of transport routes, the creation of settlements, irrigation, afforestation and planting projects. I use visual sources as the project’s access points into the Russian spatial imaginary: vital interfaces between material and metaphorical space that documented the changing environment but were also used to project future ambitions, to inscribe meaning, and to appropriate, segregate, contest and re-order terrain. Environment, image and the spatial imagination were entwined in a symbiotic relationship, with attempts to modify Central Asia’s landscapes, and the visual representations of these actions, revealing that the concept of Turkestan as a monolithic colonial space underwent significant fragmentation. The physical and imaginative transformation of terrain gave rise to new characterisations of the region as a modern, connected, innovative and fertile site, notions that were debated and disputed by a variety of state and sub-state actors in Central Asia and the imperial centre. I argue that the public circulation of images speaks to the importance of the environment as a visual component in the legitimisation of Russia’s presence on Central Asian soil, and as a key arena for the evolution of local and imperial spatial identities, some of which threatened to precipitate the eventual dissolution of the Turkestan Governor Generalship.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Space, image and display in Russian Central Asia, 1881-1914
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1474755
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