The Surprising Spatial History of the Russian Forest: An Experiment in the Art of Telling Map Stories


Thursday, October 18, 2018, 12:00pm to 1:35pm


CGIS South (1730 Cambridge St.), Room S050

Presented by Dr. Kelly O'Neill, Imperiia Project Director, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies


Over the course of the 18th century, Peter the Great and his successors grew increasingly convinced that if the Russian Empire wanted to play a dominant role on the world stage, it must reinvent itself as a naval power. The empire needed fleets to patrol not just the Baltic, but the Black Sea as well. It needed ships. And building ships required vast quantities of high-quality timber. Moreover, provisioning fleets a thousand kilometers apart required a formidable transportation infrastructure with rivers as its foundation. This talk will argue that by the early 19th century, the outcome was not just a world-class navy, but a new understanding of imperial space. It will show how historians can use 19th century climate and land use data to reveal new insights into the dynamics of mobility and power. And it will present my most recent attempt to combine mapmaking with storytelling.

Speaker bio: 

Kelly O'Neill is a historian of Russia. Her research and teaching interests concentrate on the evolution of the tsarist empire, and particularly on the social, cultural, and spatial implications of imperial rule. She teaches courses on the life and reign of Empress Catherine II, on various aspects of the formation of the multiethnic state, and on the place of Russia in the contemporary cultural and political landscape. She also teaches an introduction to digital history and, as of 2016, a course on the history of maps. 

Lunch will be served.