Since Baku’s first oil boom in the late 19th century—when the Russian branch of the Nobel family modernized the oil industry and local oil barons channeled their profits into institution building, representation, and the public life of citizens—oil and urbanism have been inextricably linked in the political, cultural, and physical fabric of Baku. What can we learn from the long, conjoined history of oil and urbanism in Baku about global urbanization processes?
In general, oil extraction sites did not become centers of industry or of cosmopolitan urban life in the early decades of global oil expansion. Yet in turn-of-the-20th-century Baku the oil industry gave rise to a confident local business elite, educated bourgeoisie, and modern urban environment that was celebrated as the “Paris of the Caspian.” In 1901 Baku was the largest supplier of oil in the world. Subsequently, during the Soviet period, when Baku was a center of oil-related scientific and technological innovation, the city was also the site of an urban experiment: the shaping of a new kind of industrial city: an “oil city of socialist man.” These conditions raise questions addressed in the lecture: Why and how did oil generate urbanism in Baku? How did the disparate technologies and spatial logics of oil production and urban production intersect and inform each other? How was that relationship reconfigured over time in the succession of political and economic systems within which they operated in Baku?
Eve Blau is Adjunct Professor of the History of Urban Form at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where she is co-director of the Harvard Mellon Initiative on Urbanism and the Humanities. Currently she is Stadt Wien/IFK_Fellow.