Beginning in the 1870s, migrant groups from Russia's steppes settled in the similar environment of the Great Plains. Many were Mennonites. They brought plants, in particular grain and fodder crops, trees and shrubs, as well as weeds. Following their example, and drawing on the expertise of émigré Russian-Jewish scientists, the US Department of Agriculture introduced more plants, agricultural sciences, especially soil science; and methods of planting trees to shelter the land from the wind. By the 1930s, many of the grain varieties in the Great Plains had been imported from the steppes. The fertile soil was classified using the Russian term 'chernozem'. The US Forest Service was planting shelterbelts using techniques pioneered in the steppes. And, tumbling across the plains was an invasive weed from the steppes: tumbleweed. Based on archival research in the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, this book explores the unexpected Russian roots of Great Plains agriculture.
is a history professor at the University of York in the UK and holds an honorary professorship at University College London. He is a specialist on Russian, Eurasian, and transnational environmental history. He began his career as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, at the southern end of the Great Plains, and completed his new book as a visiting professor at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan, in the heart of the Eurasian steppes.The American Steppes: The Unexpected Russian Roots of Great Plains Agriculture, 1870s-1930s
(Cambridge University Press, 2020), which explores connections between these two regions, is his fifth book. He would like to thank the Leverhulme Trust for supporting his work.
Steven Seegel is Professor of History at University of Northern Colorado.