Russia’s Inherited Geographies

Prokudin-Gorskii travelled throughout the Russian empire trying document a visual Russia. His work features numerous beautiful landscapes and interesting people whose vivid colors attract attention, but I think some of the more striking pictures are the ones that feature people with hauntingly somber faces seemingly absorbed in their own life. In particular, I find the piece called Work at the Bakalskii Mine fascinating. Why did Prokudin-Gorkii choose them and how are they worthy of representing a visual Russia?

These questions led to the Ural Mountain region, where the picture was taken. This mountain range is located in central Russia, a far stretch away from the more populous eastern region. Before the completion of the railroad, the Ural Mountains were somewhat alienated from eastern Russia. Many would suspect that this region would have a lower population given its isolation and physical characteristics but the Ural Mountain region is an interesting case study as it strays from what seems to be typical settlement patterns. The maps below are all from around the same time period and if layered hint at an interesting pattern. Looking at the topographic map it is evident that the Ural Mountains are at a much higher elevation than eastern Europe, which generally notes lower settlement patterns due to more difficult living situations. If the population map were layered over it the steady population pattern would be noticed. There is not a distinct population gap in the Ural Mountains as expected. If the transportation map of Russia were placed on top it would note a network of routes in Eastern Russia and some strands connecting eastern Russia to the mountains. Why do these mountains lend to exceptions in settlement patterns and does this have any relevance to the stature of the region today?


One explanation is this region being geographical significance to the people of Russia. The Ural Mountain region is respected because of its mining capabilities. When Peter the Great founded Yekaterinburg (a city in the Urals) in 1723 he saw it as a strategic point that could connect Europe and Asia. But the Urals also had an abundance of natural resources that would spur economic development and demand its importance to Russia. In 1729 a gem-processing factory was created, catching the eye of European states. The mountains also held precious metals that could be used for the production of war supplies and industrial equipment, but the discovery of gold in the mountains is perhaps what caused the biggest population flow, as the discovery brought bankers, merchants, and other business. As railroads paved the way into the Urals populations began to flow into them furthering economic development. The city continued to grow and today remains one of Russia’s most populated cities, and is considered to be an industrial powerhouse.

This begs the question: Are we creators of our settlement habits, or rather reactors to geographical significance? The Ural Mountains and cities, such as Yekaterinburg, are exempt from general realities of settlement rational by housing heavy populations and become centers of industrial innovation. Does this mean geographic incentives are enough to stray from typical settlement patterns?  If so, do some geographic realities outweigh others? For example: The Ural Mountains are a slightly colder climate than eastern cities but have the capabilities to provide riches. So is one thought to be more important than the other? Could this be proof that we are living in inherited geographies or is this a mere coincidence with a much more complex premise that cannot be attributed specifically to geographic capabilities?

This post received the Red Star award


More on Inherited Geographies:

Oliver, R. (2016). Lecture: Sense of Place [Powerpoint Slides]. Retrieved from

Etty, J. (2007, September). Russia’s Climate and Geography. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from


This image is titled: Work at the Bakalskii Mine Pit. Created by: Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei Mikhailovich, 1910. World Digital Library:

Russian Topographic map:

Russian population:

Russian Transportation:

Works Cited:

Alpha History. (2015, February 19). Russian industrialisation. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from

Ekaterinburg. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2017, from

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 216. Print.

History. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2017, from

History of Yekaterinburg :: Regions & Cities :: Russia-InfoCentre. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2017, from

Romanov, D. (n.d.). The History Of Yekaterinburg. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from

US Department of State. (n.d.). Yekaterinburg, Russia – Consulate General of the United States. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from

4 thoughts on “Russia’s Inherited Geographies

  1. Having very little knowledge of Russia’s geography made this piece very educational and informative! I figured that with the physical size of Russia there would be a geographic reasons for where cities were established and this piece affirmed that. The picture itself makes me realize that with the industrial revolution, Russia could be a serious benefactor of large scale machinery harvesting materials at a much greater rate then that by house and shovel. Awesome piece, well done!


  2. You took a really interesting approach to this post! Thinking about layering the maps is a very cool idea and you do a good job of leveraging the perspectives of geographers to pose important questions. BTW, if you set the photograph (of the people in the mine with the horse) as your “featured image” (on the backside of your blog) I think it will display as the thumbnail on this very slick template you’ve chosen.
    So, given what you learned about this particular example, how would you contextualize the Bakalskii mine pit in terms of what seems to be generally true about settlement patterns and topography? Impressive research here!


  3. I love geography, so this post was really interesting! It seems that most studies of Russia don’t focus on the Urals or give a lot of information about them, so it was interesting to see the differences in population patterns in this area. I think the questions you brought up at the end were very thought provoking and relevant, because Russia’s geography is very intertwined with its history and its politics.


  4. I am very interested in geography and geopolitics, so I love that you went this route. Those maps do indicate that despite their elevation, the Urals are still a relatively well-settled area, and I agree that that is probably due to natural resources. Siberia and the Russian Far East are also resource-rich, so it would be interesting to explore why those areas are not so well developed.


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