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Living standards in Tsarist and Early Soviet Central Asia: Can we study them? Why do they matter?

  • Beatrice Penati
Thursday 13 October 2016
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
104 (Verbarium)

Masterclass by Beatrice Penati, Assistant Professor of History at Nazarbayev University (Astana, Kazakhstan). Dr Penati is the Central Asia Visiting Scholar in October 2016 within the Central Asia Initiative at Leiden University.


In this masterclass I will present the results of my ongoing work on the topic. I have collected a relatively large database with information from peasant (and nomadic) household budgets from across the region (nowadays Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan) and spanning from the first to the third decade of the 20th c. By discussing the sources themselves, the challenges they pose, and the methods used to treat the data they contain, I show the potential of this approach and reveal some rather unexpected results. I will also propose some reflections on the ways in which this sort of woulk could, in the near future, help integrate the study of Central Asia with that of neigbouring regions, and beyond.

Background readings
Darrow, David. 2001. “From Commune to Household: Statistics and the Social Construction of Chaianov’s Theory of Peasant Economy.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 43 (4): 788–818.

Holquist, Peter. 2010. “‘In Accord with State Interests and the People’s Wishes’: The Technocratic Ideology of Imperial Russia’s Resettlement Administration.” Slavic Review 69 (1): 151–79.

Rossi, Nicola, Gianni Toniolo, and Giovanni Vecchi. 2001. “Is the Kuznets curve still alive? Evidence from Italian Household Budgets, 1881–1961.” The Journal of Economic History 61 (4): 904–925. doi:10.1017/S0022050701042024.


Beatrice Penati

Dr Beatrice Penati is Assistant Professor of History at Nazarbayev University (Astana, Kazakhstan) since 2011. She earned a co-directed PhD at the Scuola Normale Superiore (Pisa, Italy) and at the EHESS (Paris) in 2008. She was an intern of the French Institute for Central Asian Studies in Tashkent and held postdoctoral positions in Sapporo (Slavic Research Center, JSPS post-doc fellowship) and Manchester (Newton International Fellowship of the British Academy).

In the past, she worked on the basmachi uprising and on the para-diplomatic activity of Muslim nationalist refugees from the former Russian empire in interwar Europe. Her most recent research interests, which have led to several articles, concern the economic and environmental history of colonial and early Soviet Central Asia, with two main foci: taxation, cadastres, irrigation, and forestry before and after the revolution, and the history of rural policies and agricultural change in the 1920s. Her first book, To Feed and to Mobilise : Land Reform and Rural Economy in early Soviet Central Asia, is under contract. At Nazarbayev University, Dr Penati teaches classes in the history of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, comparative colonialism, and Eurasian trade to undergraduate students and students of the local MA in Eurasian Studies. 

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