Maya K. Peterson unexpectedly passed away from an amniotic fluid embolism while giving delivery on June 16, 2021. A day after, Priya Luna, her daughter, passed away. Worldwide, coworkers express their grief over this awful loss.
Maya Peterson made significant contributions to environmental history, Russian, Soviet, and Central Asian history throughout her brief career. She graduated from Swarthmore College with a BA in History with High Honors and Phi Beta Kappa.
She earned a PhD in History as well as an MA in Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian Studies at Harvard University. She worked as a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University after getting her PhD. She accepted a tenure-track assistant professor post in the University of California, Santa Cruz’s history department in 2012. (UCSC). She received tenure in 2019 and was elevated to associate professor. She developed a deep regard for the university’s potential, the doors it may open in one’s life, and the relationships it can foster because her parents, Mark Peterson and Indira Viswanathan Peterson, are teachers at Mount Holyoke College.
Her book Pipe Dreams is the keystone of her scholastic output. The scope of the book is impressive. On one level, it is the first in-depth account of the Russian and Soviet efforts to manage the water resources in Central Asia during the years between the 1880s and the 1940s. Peterson’s work weaves together information gathered from archives in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to tell this significant event because there is little secondary literature on the subject. Many of these archives are difficult to utilize; they receive few visits from foreign researchers, and obtaining access, when it does occur, requires both persistence and good fortune. The fact that Peterson was able to write such a daring and ambitious book is a credit to her talent and bravery as a researcher.
A significant accomplishment in and of itself, the book is also one of the earliest environmental histories of Russian and Soviet Central Asia. The geography of Central Asia and the way of life of its inhabitants have always been closely related. A large portion of the area is desert and prone to drought. Understanding the history of this area requires using environmental history, which examines how people’s interactions with the natural world have changed over time. Peterson was one of the first scholars to realize this and use environmental history techniques to investigate Central Asia.