- Power and the 18th-Century Nobility
Although from the perspective of readers (and reviewers) single-author books always are easier to assimilate, evaluate, and critique, in post-Soviet Russia the production of monographic essay collections has become a mainstay of historical scholarship. These volumes can be difficult to digest—filled as they are with thematically broad and empirically narrow essays that often seem too brief or too long—but in this era of Russian intellectual ferment, they serve an important purpose. Essay collections make possible rapid dissemination of the voluminous research that is going on in Russia today, and they introduce to Russian and foreign publics the labors of scholars working in cities and towns across the Russian Federation. Time-consuming as it can be to work through hundreds of pages of disparate microstudies, there is simply no better way to become acquainted with the breadth of research and the explosion of information currently becoming available. Although such collections cry out for review by scholars who specialize in the specific areas covered, rather than by someone such as this reviewer who is broadly familiar with the period and issues at hand, there simply are not enough reviewers outside Russia to do justice to the massive amount of research being produced. [End Page 657]
Turning to the books under review, it also appears that the end of communist-era disdain for the governing classes of imperial Russia has led to a revival of interest in the history of elites, who now can be viewed through a more objective, nonideological lens formed out of the historian’s natural empathy for his or her chosen subject. The collections discussed below represent stunning examples of the possibilities at hand, and both belong to a growing list of monographs sponsored by the German Historical Institute (DHI) in Moscow, which has set as its mission sustained support for Russian scholarship and for collaboration between Russian and foreign scholars.
Praviashchie elity i dvorianstvo Rossii vo vremia i posle petrovskikh reform (1682–1750), edited by N. N. Petrukhintsev and Lorenz Erren, consists of 18 articles by 18 authors, including one of the editors. The articles are grouped into four sections devoted to (1) the nobility and the exercise of power (four contributions), (2) individual personalities within the elite (six contributions), (3) questions of collective soslovie consciousness (four contributions, among them my favorites), and (4) the relationship between local elites and the state (four contributions). All the articles address the broad subject of how the Russian elite should be defined—how its organization, power, and patterns of development should be understood, with special attention to the impact of the Petrine reforms.1 Unfortunately, although the individual articles provide much fuel for thought and much information on sources, there is no general concluding essay that explains what it all means or how the different themes that have been covered interrelate. The individual essays are left to stand on their own legs, which they do quite well, but it is hard to know what the general scholar-reader should take away from the deluge of encyclopedic information.
The articles in the first section, dealing with the structure of the nobility and its relationship to the monarchy and/or state power, cover a variety of traditional issues that need to be addressed in any discussion of the nobility as a ruling elite. What in fact is the ruling elite: the bureaucracy, the court, or the monarchy? What was the relationship among these entities or institutions [End Page 658] in the 17th century, during the reign of Tsar Peter I, and after the Petrine reforms? How did the noble service ranks (the...