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Beatrice Penati will be the Central Asia Visiting Scholar in October 2016

Beatrice Penati is Assistant Professor of History at Nazarbayev University (Astana, Kazakhstan). Dr Penati will deliver a guest lecture on Monday, 10 October and a masterclass on Thursday, 13 October within the Central Asia Initiative at Leiden University.


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. 


The Hunt for Red Orient: A Soviet industrial trest between Moscow and Bukhara (1922-1929), Carl Beck Papers, no. 2406 (113p.), University of Pittsburgh, 2016 [in print].

“On the local origins of the Soviet attack on “religious” waqf in the Uzbek SSR (1927)”, Acta Slavica Iaponica, vol. 36, 2015, pp. 39-72.

“Life on the Edge: Border-Making and Agrarian Policies in the Aim district (eastern Fergana), 1924-1929”, Ab Imperio, 2, 2014, p. 193-230.

“The Cotton Boom and the Land Tax in Russian Turkestan (1880s-1915)”, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, 14(4), 2013, p. 741-744.

“Managing Rural Landscapes in Colonial Turkestan: A View from the Margins”, in: P. Sartori (ed), Explorations into the Social History of Modern Central Asia, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2013 (coll. Brill Inner Asian Library, 29), p. 65-109.

“On the Soviet discovery of rural Central Asia: the Karp commission in context”, in: E. Sibeud, H. Blais, C. Freidj (eds), Enquêter dans les sociétés coloniales, monograph issue of Monde(s). Histoire, Espaces, Relations, no. 4, 2013, p. 105-125.

“Adapting Russian Technologies of Power: on administrative documents for the history of the land-and-water reform in the Uzbek SSR (1924-1929)”, Revolutionary Russia, 25(1), 2012, p. 187-217.

“Le Comité du Coton et les autres. Secteur cotonnier et pouvoir économique en Ouzbékistan, 1922-1927”, Cahiers du Monde Russe, 52(4), 2011, p. 555-589. 

“Beyond technicalities: on land assessment and land-tax in Russian Turkestan, 1886-1915”, Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, 59(1), 2011, p. 1-27.

“Notes on the birth of land-tax in Russian Turkestan. A view from the Fergana oblast’, 1876-1882”, Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, 53(5), December 2010, p. 739-769.

“Swamps, sorghum and saksauls: marginal lands and the fate of Russian Turkestan”, Central Asian Survey, 29(1), March 2010, p. 61-78.

“« C’est l’Italie qui est prédestinée par l’Histoire » : la Rome fasciste et les nationalistes caucasiens en exil (1928-1939)”, Oriente Moderno, 88(1), 2008, p. 1-33. 

“The reconquest of East Bukhara: the struggle against Basmachi as a prelude to sovietisation”, Central Asian Survey, 26(4), December 2007, p. 521-538. 

Lecture 10 October

Bitter truths: Common-pool resources, industrialisation, and the global history of Central Asian wormwood

In the last quarter of the 19th century, a medicinal plant, Artemisia cina , used to grow abundantly on the right bank of the Arys river, not far from Shymkent, in what was the Syr-Darya province of Tsarist Turkestan (now in southern Kazakhstan). An alkaloid derived from this kind of wormwood (santonin) were in high demand at the time throughout the world. Flowers were harvested by the local Kazakh population and handed over to intermediaries, who sent them to Europe to be processed industrially. Entrepreneurs from different parts of the Russian empire established their own chemical plants in Chimkent and Tashkent from the 1880s onwards. They pressured the Russian imperial government to restrict the rights of the Kazakh population to access the land where Artemisia cina grew, and to obtain the exclusive right to exploit such a resource, in the name of conservation.

The collision between the expectations and rights of the nomads, the industrialists, and the colonial administration allows a glimpse into the evolution of  Tsarist colonial policies about land resources and into the way notions of land property were used by each of the parts concerned. Furthermore, this story casts light on the supposed monopolistic nature of pre-revolutionary Russian capitalism. From another viewpoint, through Artemisia cina we see the emergence of conservationism in the region and on the development of scientific expertise in its support. Finally, because the trade of Central Asian wormwood and its derivates was truly global, changing medical practices and consumers' behaviour had a massive impact on the destiny of local harvesting and transformation activities. In this perspective, Central Asia ceases to be a marginalised periphery and appears far more integrated than commonly held.

Time: 15.15-17.00 hrs
Venue: Lipsius Building Room 235C Reuvensplaats 1 2311 BE Leiden

Masterclass 13 October

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

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.

Time: 10.00-13.00 hrs 
Venue: Verbarium, Room 104 Matthias de Vrieshof 3 2311 BZ Leiden

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