Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.2 (2002) 341-347
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Istoriia Russkoi Ameriki (1732-1867)
Nikolai Nikolaevich Bolkhovitinov, ed., Istoriia Russkoi Ameriki (1732-1867). Vol. 1: Osnovanie Russkoi Ameriki (1732-1799). Moscow: "Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia," 1997. 487 pp. ISBN 5-7133-0833-9. Vol. 2: Deiatel´nost´ Rossiisko-amerikanskoi kompanii (1799-1825). Moscow: "Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia," 1999. 472 pp. ISBN 5-7133-0976-2. Vol. 3: Russkaia Amerika: Ot zenita k zakatu (1825-1867). Moscow: "Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia," 1999. 559 pp. ISBN 5-7133-0987-8.
The Russian empire in the 19th century was exceptionally vast; in 1815 its territory stretched from Warsaw and Helsingfors (now Helsinki) in the West, to Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and the northern part of California (Fort Ross and the territory adjoining it) in the East. In 1815-17 the Russian flag was even unfurled on one of the Hawaiian Islands - the island of Kauai. With the aim of buying provisions for Russian America, Georg A. Sheffer, a physician by profession and an emissary of the Russian American Company (henceforth RAC) was sent to Hawaii and even founded a trading post. Sheffer persistently sought an agreement from the Russian government for the official unification of the Hawaiian Islands to Russia. However, Alexander I categorically refused to take the Hawaiian leader Kaumualii under his protection. Nikolai Nikolaevich Bolkhovitinov, the main editor (otvetstvennyi redaktor) of the three volumes under review, finds explanations for this refusal in the conservative turn of Russian policy in the Pacific North, in adherence to the course of the Holy Alliance. He also notes an unwillingness to strain Russia's relations with the United States, which even at that time indicated its claims to Hawaii (2: 291-93). Istoriia Russkoi Ameriki describes this and other Russian efforts to include American lands in the composition of the Russian empire. It is the first major work to encompass the entire history of Russian America, and not just individual aspects of it, which have been elucidated in numerous works on the colonization of the Northwest part of the American continent. The three-volume work traces the dramatic events stretching from the beginning of colonization in 1638 to the sale of the holdings of the RAC to the United States in 1867.
The work represents a collaborative effort on the part of a relatively small group of authors. Chapters were contributed by both senior scholars and younger specialists in the field (Bolkhovitinov, Boris Petrovich Polevoi, Moisei Samuilovich Al´perovich, Raisa Vsevolodovna Makarova, Svetlana Grigorievna [End Page 341] Fedorova, Andrei Val´terovich Grinev, Aleksandr Iur´evich Petrov, Aleksei Aleksandrovich Istomin, and Larisa Mikhailovna Troitskaia). There are also foreign scholars on the team of authors: L. S. Black from the University of Alaska (Fairbanks), and James R. Gibson from York University (Canada). The editor, Academician Bolkhovitinov, is a leading Russian specialist in the field of Russian-American relations in the 18th and 19th centuries, whose works are known both in Russia and the United States.
The historiography of Russian America to date has left open a number of disputed questions that these historians have made a serious attempt to answer. To whom does priority belong in the discovery of the American Northwest? How did the Russians succeed in colonizing such distant and vast regions? Why did Russia renounce its holdings in America? Among the complex of key problems addressed in the course of the three volumes are Russian geographic discoveries, trading activities, relations with indigenous peoples, the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church, the founding and development of the RAC, and the international relations surrounding Russian America. Political, economic, and social aspects of the topic predominate, but much attention is also given to geography and ethnography. All three volumes are furnished with maps, including detailed commentary. The authors announce their goal to be the creation of a work as free as possible from political tendentiousness, as well as one based on archival materials from both Russian and foreign repositories and works published in Russia and abroad (1: 11).
The result is a work that takes issue with...