A regional history of colonization and adaptation in southern Ukraine, Cross-Cultural Encounters on the Ukrainian Steppe examines how diverse agrarian groups, faced with common environmental, economic, and administrative conditions, followed sharply divergent paths of development. Using a wide variety of sources, including local Ukrainian and Russian archives never before examined by a western scholar, John Staples compares and contrasts how the Mennonites, Nogais, Russians, Ukrainians, and other groups transformed their environments and adapted to life in the Molochna Valley.
Staples contends that the allocation and use of land formed a central hub around which public life in Molochna revolved, and determined the success or failure of each group. Ultimately, he concludes, it was the settlers, not the state, who decided how they would adapt to the arid southern Ukrainian steppe. Perhaps most importantly, Staples makes a major contribution to the investigation of how peasant groups can emerge from their traditionalist mentality and life-style as the Mennonites of Molochna did. His thoughtful analysis will be a welcome addition to the study of both Tsarist peasant history and Russian and Ukrainian agricultural and peasant history.