Entangled histories of plague ecology in Russia and the USSR

Susan D. Jones, Anna A. Amramina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


During the mid-twentieth century, Soviet scientists developed the “natural focus” theory–practice framework to explain outbreaks of diseases (such as bubonic plague) endemic to wild animals and transmitted to humans. Focusing on parasitologist-physician Evgeny N. Pavlovsky and other field scientists’ work in the Soviet borderlands, this article explores how the natural focus framework’s concepts and practices were entangled in political as well as material ecologies of knowledge and practice. We argue that the very definition of endemic plague incorporated both hands-on materialist experience (including the identification of microbes/pathogens, insects/vectors, and mammals/reservoirs) and ideological concepts that supported Soviet colonization (“improving” hinterlands, “controlling natural focuses of disease,” and “sanitizing” landscapes). Theorizing and fighting plague assisted with the goals of controlling and improving landscapes and peoples in southern Russia and Central Asia. The history of the natural focus framework illustrates how Soviet disease ecology co-developed with the needs of local and central political powers in the Soviet borderlands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number49
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding Funding was provided by National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1126923) and NOCC-Norwegian Centennial Chair/University of Minnesota Foundation Collaborative Grant.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


  • Disease ecology
  • Pavlovsky, E.N
  • Plague
  • USSR—environmental history

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