Make Way for the Railway: City Development and the Trans-Siberian Railroad


Nota, Sierra. 2019. “Make Way for the Railway: City Development and the Trans-Siberian Railroad.” WCFIA Undergraduate Thesis Conference. Cambridge, MA: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Copy at


While the vast majority of Russian settlements in the first quarter of the twentieth century were shrinking in population and suspending infrastructure projects, the city of Irkutsk experienced a developmental ‘boom’. This is despite the fact that the primary force driving migration and expansion in this period has been shown to be centered around the industrialization in the Empire’s largest cities. Paradoxically, Irkutsk added few factories and moved away from heavy industry in this period. It was the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway, and the international trade, seasonal labor, and commodities movement that this new network brought through its geographically most important junction, Irkutsk, that allowed the city to thrive. The city thus developed in a uniquely ‘transit-oriented’ fashion. It was only once the Bolsheviks came to power, bringing with them a distaste for international trade and the movement of its citizens outside of the Union, that the city stopped expanding and faded into relative obscurity. This thesis aims to trace the unique urban development that characterizes this transformative period in Irkutsk; what ultimately emerges is a nonindustrial international metropolis that defies neat characterization by current historiographical approaches to late Russian imperial urbanism.

See also: 2019