Reviews

This volume, a collection of essays produced by one of the Slavic Research Centre’s superb international symposia, has a bold intellectual agenda. In the introduction Kimitaka Matsuzato writes that “readers of the recent literature on the Russian Empire may perhaps gain the impression that a poorly-equipped vessel of theory has been overwhelmed by a tempest of empirical descriptions.” That framework of theory (‘Imperiology’) is what this volume seeks to provide, and in particular K. Matsuzato attacks the tendency of some modern historians to substitute anachronistic ‘national’ interpretations and frameworks for the equally unhelpful Communist and Cold War prisms through which the history of the empire was seen until 1991. To the extent that its contributors avoid dividing Russia’s Imperial history into a set of separate national narratives, Imperiology succeeds in this aim: with essays on particular regions (on the Volga-Urals: Werth Paul, “Imperiology and Religion: Some Thoughts on a Research Agenda,” 51-67; Naganawa Norihiro, “Islam and Empire Observed: Muslims in the Volga-Ural Region after the 1905 Revolution,” 68-84; Taimasov Leonid A., “From ‘Kazan’s Newly Converted’ to ‘Orthodox Inorodtsy’: The Historical Stages of the Affirmation of Christianity in the Middle Volga Region,” 111-38; on Ukraine and the Western borderlands: Nadolska Valentyna, “Volyn within the Russian Empire: Migratory Processes and Cultural Interaction,” 85-110; Dolbilov Mikhail, “Russian Nationalism and the nineteenth-Century Policy of Russification in the Russian Empire’s Western Region,” 141-58; Matsumura Takeshi, “To What Extend Could the Empire Be Constructed? Objective Limitation on Agrarian Discourse in Nineteenth-Century Russia: The Baltic Provinces, the Russian Black Soil Region, and Right-Bank Ukraine,” 159-78; Gorizontov Leonid, “In Search of Internal Balance: Debate on Changes in the Territorial-Administrative Division of the Russian Empire in the 1830s and 1840s,” 179-98; Rosenberg Tiit, “From National Territorial Autonomy to Independence of Estonia: The War and Revolution in the Baltic Region, 1914-1917,” 199-222; on the Far East: Lukoianov Igor V., “Russian Imperialism in the Far East at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: The Collapse of S. Iu. Witte’s Programme of Economic Expansion,” 225-44; Grinev Andrei V., “Russian Politarism as the Main Reason for the Settling of Alaska,” 245-58; Kaminaga Eisuke, “Maritime History and Imperiology: Japan’s ‘Northern Fisheries’ and the Priamur Governor-Generalship,” 259-73) and two ambitious framing essays by Alexei Miller (“The Value and the Limits of a Comparative Approach to the history of Contiguous Empires on the European Periphery,” 19-32) and Jun Akiba (“Preliminaries to a Comparative History of the Russian and Ottoman Empires: Perspectives from Ottoman Studies,” 33-48), this is very far from the collections of ethnicity or identity-centred narratives which characterised a lot of scholarship in the 1990s. On the other hand, it is probably going a bit far to claim that what emerges from this is a new and coherent ‘discipline’ of ‘Imperiology’. The study of nationalities never became a discipline, remaining within the frameworks of history and political science, and there seems no reason why the study of empires should become one either. Understanding imperial polities on their own terms, as regimes of managed ‘difference’ which are not necessarily morally inferior to the nation-state, is clearly important, and K. Matsuzato is right to insist on this, but the disciplinary and theoretical tools required are abundantly supplied by existing fields, most obviously history. The essays in this volume offer ample evidence of this, as with the exception of the introductory historiographical pieces from A. Miller and J. Akiba, they are resolutely empirical, drawing on a rich range of archival and published sources, and all the better for it. Where questions of ‘nation-building’ arise (as they do in N. Naganawa’s piece on the Volga-Ural Muslims and the 1905 revolution, or Rosenberg’s on Estonia) they are carefully linked to the administrative and institutional context of the empire which, for instance, granted zemstva to the Muslims of Kazan and Ufa provinces, but not those of Orenburg (until 1912) or to the Christians of Estland and Livland, which retained older institutions controlled by the German nobility. N. Naganawa’s essay is perhaps the outstanding contribution to the volume, as he makes extensive use of the Turkic-language press which emerged in the Volga-Urals region after the 1905 revolution to argue that the institutions of the Russian state (most obviously the Orenburg Spiritual Assembly) played an important role in the forging of a distinctive local Muslim (‘Tatar’) identity, although debates over spiritual authority were far from wholly dependent on the state. It is also the essay whose subject will render it of the greatest interest to historians of Central Eurasia: It is a pity that Imperiology does not cover Turkistan and the Steppe region, as without some consideration of these more ‘colonial’ peripheries of the Russian Empire it is impossible to form an impression of Russian imperialism as a whole. Imperiology thus does not quite fulfil the ambitious intellectual agenda set out by K. Matsuzato in the introduction, but that should not detract from the fact that it is an extremely valuable collection in its own right, and an exemplary product of the international scholarly collaboration in which the Slavic Research Centre specialises.

Alexander Morrison, University of Liverpool
CER: II-3.1.C-135