Reviews

Based on a conference at the German Historical Institute, this volume reflects an extensive exchange between Russian, German and American historians of the Russian Empire on the role of transfers in the development of Russia’s imperial rule: In how far were administrators of the Tsarist state influenced by of the ideologies and practices exercised in other contemporary empires? Two chapter offer particularly interesting insights for students of Central Eurasia: Willard Sunderland inquires into failed efforts to create a centralised ministry for the administration of Russia’s Asian possessions. Obviously, substantial forces within the Tsarist colonial administration aspired to the creation of a colonial ministry which would have mirrored similar institutions by western imperial powers. W. Sunderland explains the failure of these plans with the inertia and demarcation disputes within Russia’s bureaucracy. This interpretation contrasts, to a degree, with Anatolii Remnev’s following chapter on Siberia and the Far East. This author suggests that a widespread anxiety of Siberia separatism rendered the possible creation of a separate administrative ministry for Siberia unlikely, even if there always had been differences in the administrative practices in European Russia and Siberia. In contrast to W. Sunderland, A. Remnev tends to see this as an additional proof for a Russian “Sonderweg” in colonial policies. Vladimir Bobrovnikov discusses the mutual influences that shaped the Russian colonisation of the Caucasus and French administration in Algeria. On the one hand, he stresses common European factors, like the intellectual communality of orientalist perceptions in both Russia and France. On the other hand he stresses that both powers copied existing practices of former overlords, like the use of indigenous mediators in the colonial administration: Both the Ottoman Empire and Persia had practised similar policies earlier. More importantly, V. Bobrovnikov challenges wide spread assumptions about the direction of transfers. Not only does he show that colonisers on both sides learned actively from the experiences of the other. Also the colonised were looking at the fate of their coreligionists, not without idealising the fate of Russia’s Muslims in the case of “Young Algerians” during the 1880s. As a whole, the volume contains strong arguments against several entrenched academic traditions. It questions interpretations that advocate a clear distinction between the Russian style of governing a continental empire and the Western European administration of colonies overseas. At the same time, it casts serious doubts on the assumption that these transfers were unilateral, from the west to the east. In many cases the authors succeed to demonstrate that the Russian experience of running a colonial empire was closely monitored and partially copied elsewhere.

Christian Noack, National University of Ireland at Maynooth
CER: II-3.1.C-125