Living on the Margins—Burlaki Culture and Identity on the Volga River


Presented by the Center for Russian and East European Studies
Moderator: Sean Guillory (University of Pittsburgh)
Friday, February 23, 2018, 4:00-5:30pm
Room 602 (Humanities Center) in the Cathedral of Learning

Mythologized, romanticized and vilified, Russia’s burlaki (barge haulers) have been a part of Russian history since the seventeenth century. Their lives were fraught with hardship and deprivation. But work on the waterway also allowed for a freedom not enjoyed by others in conventional society. The Volga River acted as an oppressor and liberator, shaping the lives of the burlaki, and contributing to the social construct of an identity that was both feared and celebrated.

Dorothy Zeisler-Vralsted is a Professor of International Affairs at Eastern Washington  University. She is also the Co-Director of the UNESCO Project on Water and Indigenous Peoples. Her research focuses on water history with publications on the historical development of major river systems and the intersection of race, class and the environment. Her most recent publication is Rivers, Memory and Nation- Building: A History of the Volga and Mississippi Rivers (Berghahn Books, 2014).