University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

History of Science and Technology/Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Colloquium

Friday, December 8th 2017
Speaker: Andy Bruno
Subject: Eurasianism in Soviet Science: The Environmental Views of Aleksandr Fersman
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Thoroughly a product of imperial Russia’s aristocratic culture, the mineralogist and geochemist Aleksandr Fersman rose to the top of the country’s scientific establishment after the Bolsheviks took control. He then remained a staunch supporter of various industrial projects through much of the Stalinist period. This talk puts Fersman’s thinking about the natural world in conversation with a quite distinctive mode of intellectual inquiry that developed contemporaneously. Eurasianism was a philosophical doctrine of a group of Russian émigrés who emphasized Russia’s unique status straddling Europe and Asia. While Fersman did not belong to this group of thinkers, a number of his ideas drew on specific experiences in the environments of the Eurasian landmass. Indeed, I argue that Fersman’s dualistic understanding of nature, his advocacy for the field of geochemistry, his definition of deserts, and a scheme he proposed for industrial operations owed much to the Eurasian settings of the science he practiced. Furthermore, this case of a Eurasian mineralogist illuminates novel aspects of the interplay between national and global sciences.

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