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Post-Soviet Peter: New Histories of the Late Muscovite and Early Imperial Russian Court
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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6.2 (2005) 375-392

New Histories of the Late Muscovite and Early Imperial Russian Court

Ernest A. Zitser

Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies
Harvard University
625 Massachusetts Avenue, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02139 USA
zitser@fas.harvard.edu
Evgenii Viktorovich Anisimov, Gosudarstvennye preobrazovaniia i samoderzhavie Petra Velikogo v pervoi chetverti XVIII veka [State Reforms and Peter the Great's Autocracy in the First Quarter of the 18th Century]. 331 pp. St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 1997. ISBN 5860070632.
Paul Bushkovitch, Peter the Great. xii + 187 pp. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001. ISBN 0847696383. $24.95 (cloth). ISBN 0847696391. $17.95 (paper).
Paul Bushkovitch, Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671–1725. xii + 485 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 521805856. $85.00.
Lindsey Hughes, Peter the Great: A Biography. xv + 285 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN 0300094264. $35 (cloth). ISBN 030010300X. $18.00 (paper).
Lindsey Hughes, Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. xxix + 602 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. ISBN 0300075391. $60.00 (cloth). ISBN 0300082665. $23.00 (paper).
Dmitrii Olegovich Serov, Stroiteli imperii: Ocherki gosudarstvennoi i kriminal´noi deiatel´nosti spodvizhnikov Petra I [Builders of Empire: Essays on the Governmental and Criminal Activities of Peter I's Companions]. 262 pp. Novosibirsk: Izdatel´stvo Novosibirskogo universiteta, 1996. ISBN 5761503859.
Viktor Markovich Zhivov, Razyskaniia v oblasti istorii i predystorii russkoi kul´tury [Research in the History and Prehistory of Russian Culture]. 758 pp. Moscow: Iazyki slavianskoi kul´tury, 2002. ISBN 5785902214.

One of the unexpected historiographical consequences of the demise of the Soviet Union, both as a state and as a civilization, has been a revival of interest in that most traditional of all Russian historical topics—the study of Peter the Great and all things Petrine (petrovedenie). This revival cannot simply be attributed to the fact that the political and economic transformations of the late 20th century happened to coincide with a spate of Petrine tercentenaries, such as those commemorating the inauguration of the Russian navy (1695), Peter's "Great Embassy" to Europe (1697–98), or, most famously, the founding of St. Petersburg (1703). Rather, these post-Soviet Petrine celebrations are themselves a sign of Russians' renewed interest in a usable national past, and in particular in the historical period that has come to be identified (and even embraced) as the quintessential starting point of Russian modernity. Post-Soviet opinion polls gave Peter a higher approval rating than any other leader in Russian history (except perhaps for Russia's current president). Judging by the flood of books produced in the last decade, this fact is not lost on Russian publishers, who have eagerly joined contemporary politicians in cashing in on the marketing of imperial nostalgia. Unfortunately, the actual intellectual content of what is sold to Russian consumers (and fobbed off on voters) suggests that much of contemporary petrovedenie fails to rise above the level attained in the first half of the 19th century, when the contours of the professional, academic study of Peter's Russia first took shape. If they address the historiography at all, most of the glossy commemorative volumes and popular biographies produced to coincide with the recent Petrine anniversaries simply echo the old debates about continuity and change, the degree of foreign influence on Russia's domestic development, and the inevitability of the choice between Russia and the West. Regardless of which side of the argument they eventually land on, the participants in such endless (because ultimately ahistorical) quarrels fail to transcend the antinomies imported from German idealist philosophy by the Slavophiles and Westernizers. As a result, they do little more than perpetuate the commonly accepted myths about Peter the Great, the demiurge who supposedly dragged Muscovy kicking and screaming into the secular modern world.

How gratifying it is, therefore, to review a selection of books that not only try to bring something new to the traditional picture of Peter, but also attempt to rethink the premises underpinning much of the old petrovedenie. Not surprisingly, perhaps, this revisionist strain in the historiography of Peter's reign has also drawn strength from the ideological consequences of the collapse of...



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