Taylor Zajicek

Alumni; Ph.D. 2023

Dissertation Title: "Black Sea, Cold War: An Environmental History of the Black Sea Region, 1930-2005"

I am a historian of environmental change in modern Eurasia and the Near East.

My dissertation, “Black Sea, Cold War,” explores the entanglement of geopolitics, science, and environment in the greater Black Sea region from 1933 to 1993. The Black Sea is one of world history’s most combustible bottlenecks—at the heart of the world wars and today’s Russo-Ukrainian conflict. The Cold War added its own chapter to this fractious history, bisecting the littoral into communist and NATO-aligned halves. Yet for nearly five decades, the region’s ideological rivals remained connected by the natural environment—and the sea itself.

The dissertation takes this tension as its starting point: How did the Black Sea’s ecological unity challenge its geopolitical division? Each chapter follows a material circulation that transcended the Iron Curtain. Case studies include cultural artifacts (such as scientific research) as well as a cast of nonhuman border-crossers, including water, pollution, fish, radionuclides, and invasive comb jellies. The project demonstrates that the region’s rivals—capitalist and communist—built their region in concert with one another and with natural forces, even when they did so unwittingly.

“Black Sea, Cold War” draws on sources in six languages from more than two dozen archives in Armenia, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States. This fieldwork was supported by external grantors, including the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright-Hays Program, and Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).

I am also working on a desert history of Central Asia and a digital humanities analysis of some 1,300 Soviet conservation posters. I laid the groundwork for the former with a 2022 article on the Central Asian origins of Russian seismology. A previous version of the paper won the Central Eurasian Society’s graduate award. My writing has also drawn prizes from ASEEES and the University of Washington’s (UW) Ellison Center.

Prior to Princeton, I studied at UW as a Gordon C. Culp Fellow, interned at the US Embassy to Uzbekistan, and taught English in Turkey as a Fulbright grantee. I am from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Prospective students are welcome to contact me.

Degree Year
Year of Study
Area of Interest
Borderlands History
Environmental History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
20th Century
Middle East and North Africa
Russia and Eurasia