- Zaokeanskie partnery: Amerika i Rossiia v 1830-1850-e gody. [Partners across the Ocean: the United States and Russia, 1830s-1850s]
Since the 1970s, studies of early Russian–American relations have multiplied, and the pioneering books and articles of two specialists, N.N. Bolkhovitinov and Norman E. Saul, have laid the groundwork for more focused monographs. Ivan Kurilla's new book concentrates on the middle decades of the nineteenth century, a fascinating period of revolution, warfare, and technological change. Drawing on an impressive array of archival materials, Kurilla elaborates many of the themes discussed in Saul's Distant Friends: The United States and Russia, 1763–1867 (Lawrence, KS, 1991) and Bolkhovitinov's Russian-American Relations and the Sale of Alaska, 1834–1867 (Moscow, 1990; trans. 1996). Kurilla affirms the traditional interpretation of the Russian–American partnership based on commercial growth, Anglophobia, a lack of potential sources of discord, and mutual public sympathy. The result constitutes a depiction of an era of confidence and fruitful collaboration during which Russia appears as the foremost benefactor.
Discussions of the wide-ranging diplomatic relations constitute the book's core, yet Kurilla also deals with America's role in the economic [End Page 492] and technological modernization of Russia and the evolution of national images through the prisms of travel accounts and the popular press. The first part of the book focuses on the central mechanisms of Russian–American cooperation: international politics, geopolitical ambition, and technology transfer. The Russian Empire, led by the efforts of its minister in Washington, Alexander Bodisko, supported the United States against British expansion in North America and enhanced the diplomatic position of the United States in the Pacific. In turn, American entrepreneurs played a major role in the modernization of the Russian navy, merchant marine, river transportation network, small arms industry, and telegraph system. At a time when Russian transportation was relatively primitive, American specialists provided advice on railway construction and established contracts for thousands of locomotives and wagons. In the 1840s George Washington Whistler was such an important railway consultant that his son pondered what Russia would do without his father when they returned home (169). Kurilla acknowledges that "the construction of the Petersburg-Moscow railway line became one of the first large projects in which the Russian state relied on American technology and American engineers" (174). Meanwhile, Russian journalists' coverage of American entrepreneurial activity helped fuel a growing sentiment in favor of the United States among the reading public.
In Part Two, Kurilla surveys the impressions left by Russian and American travelers who visited each other's countries. In general, Americans were impressed with the pace of Russia's development, its resources, and the power of the autocrat, yet there was some variation: American shipping magnate Silas Burrows referred to Tsar Nicholas I as "the Napoleon of our day," while Ambassador George Mifflin Dallas thought the tsar's willingness to do good would have made him an excellent president (219); Tennessee Governor Neil Brown deplored the Russian climate, but Ambassador Charles Stewart Todd claimed the Russian winter was good for his health (251). Most Russian visitors came to America on official business, keen to observe industrial, maritime, and technological practices, but a few emigrants also recorded their thoughts about the democratic organization of the country. The upshot was an awakening of interest on both sides that was not entirely free from biases and prejudices.
The third part of the book surveys the construction of national discourses in the press and argues that the interaction between the two countries helped shape their national identities. Kurilla investigates the [End Page 493] similarities between the two countries—including issues of manifest destiny, slavery and serfdom, and apparent isolation from Western Europe—as well as their differences, including censorship and freedom of the press, democracy and autocracy. Kurilla demonstrates that although the American press carried negative clichés about Russian despotism and militarism, Americans' interest in Russia was relatively limited, while...