- Indeitsy tlinkity v period Russkoi Ameriki, 1741–1867 gg., and: Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries, and: The First Russian Voyage around the World: The Journal of Hermann Ludwig von Löwenstern (1803–1806), and: Shamanism and Christianity: Native Encounters with Russian Orthodox Missions in Siberia and Alaska, 1820–1917, and: Through Orthodox Eyes: Russian Missionary Narratives of Travels to the Dena’ina and Ahtna, 1850s–1930s
It may seem self-evident that "Russian America"—that is, Russia's colony in North America between 1741 and 1867—was an integral part of the Russian empire. Yet the reality is that precious few explicitly comparative studies treat it as such.1 There have been good institutional reasons for [End Page 627] Russianists to overlook or underestimate the Alaskan connections; among them is the practical consideration that under the rubric of area studies, "Russian" America is anomalous simply because it falls outside of Eurasia. Among Russian historians, Russia's North American colony has conventionally been treated as an odd case, a curious but ultimately inconsequential exception. It is only in the last decade or so, now that appreciation for the mechanics and organization of Russia as empire has gained a new stature among specialists in 19th-century Russian history, that a substantive reappraisal of Alaska's place within the Russian empire has become really feasible. So far, few researchers have noticed and acted on this opportunity.
Russian American history remains a marginalized field, with surprisingly little engagement with the general Russian studies community—or the American and Canadian ones, for that matter. Studies on Russian America have rarely pushed beyond traditional boundaries. Even the currents of New Western History and colonial studies, so influential in reshaping the image of the North American West within the last two decades and now increasingly applied to the study of colonial activities throughout much of the Russian empire, have made minimal impact on this insular field.2 Ubiquitous as they may seem to be, colonial studies and New Western History (now no longer so new) represent but two of the missed opportunities for practitioners in the Russian American field to engage broader scholarship and connect Russia's colony to the wider world. Against the backdrop of this insularity, the attempts by three of the scholars whose works I review here to create new conceptualizations and links appear all the more striking.
One of the most consequential links between Russia's sole overseas colony and the metropolis was maritime travel on a global scale. Russia's circumnavigation voyages, connecting St. Petersburg to the ports of Alaska and the Russian Far East via the South Seas, created an alternative (maritime) route between the western and eastern ends of the empire.3 This alternative route, insofar as it exposed Russian travelers to a whole range of cultural experiences unavailable in Eurasia, had implications for their conceptions of ethnicity, race, and region, in the Russian empire as a whole but especially in the American colony.4 It was 200 years ago that Russian ships first sailed [End Page 628] around the world. The highly celebrated voyage by the Nadezhda and the Neva between 1803 and 1806 led to the production of a number...