Totalitarianism and Geography: L S Berg and the Defence of an Academic Dsicipline in the Age of Stalin

Denis Shaw, Jonathan Oldfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Citations (Scopus)


In considering the complex relationship between science and politics, the article focuses upon the career of the eminent Russian scholar, Lev Semenovich Berg (1876-1950), one of the leading geographers of the Stalin period. Already before the Russian Revolution, Berg had developed a naturalistic notion of landscape geography which later appeared to contradict some aspects of Marxist-Leninist ideology. Based partly upon Berg's personal archive, the article discusses the effects of the 1917 revolution, the radical changes which Stalin's cultural revolution (from the late 1920s) brought upon Soviet science, and the attacks made upon Berg and his concept of landscape geography thereafter. The ways in which Berg managed to defend his notion of geography (sometimes in surprisingly bold ways) are considered. It is argued that geography's position under Stalin was different from that of certain other disciplines in that its ideological disputes may have been regarded as of little significance by the party leaders, certainly by comparison with its practical importance, thus providing a degree of 'freedom' for some geographers at least analogous to that which has been described by Weiner (1999. A little corner of freedom: Russian nature protection from Stalin to Gorbachev. Berkeley: University of California Press) for conservationists. It is concluded that Berg and others successfully upheld a concept of scientific integrity and limited autonomy even under Stalinism, and that, in an era of 'Big Science', no modernizing state could or can afford to emasculate these things entirely. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-112
Number of pages17
JournalPolitical Geography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


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