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Changing attitudes towards living natural resources in the Russian/Soviet Empire and the exchange of knowledge with Europe: an environmental history perspective

Final Report Summary - RESRUSENVHISTORY (Changing attitudes towards living natural resources in the Russian/Soviet Empire and exchange of knowledge with Europe: an environmental history perspective)

Living resources, such as soil, forests, game and fish played a leading role in the economy of the Russian/Soviet Empire before this role passed to mineral resources. But even before this, attitudes towards resources, the practices of their use and relations between users underwent constant change, being a definite manifestation of modernisation. The history of exploration and exploitation of natural resources in Russia was closely connected with state building on the one hand and with the development and increasing diversity of scientific knowledge on the other.

This project has sought to provide new historical knowledge about the patterns of use of living resources in Russia and the exchange of resource use information with Europe. Based upon methods derived from environmental history and history of science it has sought to describe and analyse
1) the major changes in attitudes towards living resources in long duration perspective: from the 18th to mid-20th centuries;
2) the place of local users of living resources and local knowledge and practices of resources use as they changed during the same period;
3) representations of Russian resources on the international scene, their perception, and the exchange of knowledge with Europe.

The project considers the state-adopted methods of resource description and classification which conceived resources as the distinct object of governance. Most of the examples discussed, as planned, were taken from the field of fisheries. The findings of the project confirmed the initial hypothesis that the main tendency in the perception of resources by scientists, managers and authorities was a change from the eighteenth-century concept of 'economy of nature', in which resources and their local users were perceived as one entity, to the construction of the calculable and manageable resources of modernity which was accompanied with marginalisation and sometimes total exclusion of traditional local users of resources.

The project was developed as a series of case-studies which analysis led to a number of important conclusions:
1) the practices of studies and use of living resources underwent significant changes correlated with the process of modernisation, which resulted at first in the exclusion of the traditional users from access to these resources, destruction of their culture and then in the destruction of the resources themselves;
2) the fate of local users was especially hard in the regions which experienced a huge gap between the level of economic development of a region and the expectations that the state and its agents imposed on its development, for example in the Russian North, where the state's demand for exceptionally rapid modernisation did not leave any possibility for gradual transformation of, and adaptation by, local communities;
3) having some peculiar features in the process of modernisation and resource use, such as the central role of the state and its agents, including scientists, Russia was nevertheless a part of European development and was involved in the key debates and exchanges of knowledge which characterised the period.

In light of the results of the project, it is important that socio-political decisions connected with the use of living resources, life and culture of their local users would be informed by deep analysis of the past, especially because nowadays the gradual return of the human subject to a postmodern perception of resource problems, including studies of traditional ecological knowledge, has become a central part of the research agenda and has significant impact on political and economic decisions for future planning of sustainable use of resources. Thus the results of this project providing better understandings of the past might serve for improvement of future politics and thus are relevant for policy makers and NGO's.