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Workshop on Soviet Energy History

February 10, 2015

In January the University of Zürich arranged a workshop on the seemingly narrow theme of the Soviet Union’s energy history: Oil, Gas and Pipelines: New Perspectives on the Role of Soviet Energy during the Cold War. I presented some work based on my book, Red Gas, and above all I enjoyed the presentations and ideas brought forward by other historians interested in the topic of Soviet-era energy issues. I was thrilled to learn that a significant number of research projects are currently being carried out in which academics from several countries enthusiastically dig into the rich archival material that is available in the archives of Russia and other ex-Soviet republics.

The political economy of Soviet energy in its national and international context was clearly a central discussion theme during the conference, whereby it became clear that Soviet, East European, and West European energy developments must be analyzed and understood as a whole. The conference papers also contributed in an excellent way to the analysis of the intriguing dialectics between East-West cooperation in the energy field and competition in the geopolitical arena.

Less represented were the material and technological dimensions. This surprised me, since it is obvious to everyone that nothing can happen in the field of oil and gas without science and technology – from the geology of oil and gas exploration to the complex metallurgical challenges for the steel industry in their attempts to produce large-diameter gas pipes for use in harsh Arctic environments. Another issue that remains to be dealt with is how Soviet energy can best be theorized.

It remains to be seen what the community of 25-30 workshop participants can come up with in terms of further research on Soviet energy during the next couple of years.

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