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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 1.4 (2000) 794-804

Reviewed by
Ol'ga Leont'eva
Kafedra Rossiiskoi istorii
Samarskii gosudarstvennyi universitet
ul. Akademika Pavlova, 1
443011 Samara
Translated by Nigel Raab
Thomas Sanders, ed., Historiography of Imperial Russia: The Profession and Writing of History in a Multinational State. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1999. 536 pp. ISBN 1-56324-684-8 (hardcover), 1-56324-685-6 (paper). $97.95 and $39.95.

"Notes from a benevolent distance" – the expression in the subtitle of Manfred Hildermeier's concluding essay to this volume ("Russian History at a Turning Point") would have made an appropriate title for this review. Not just because I, a Russian reader, will be discussing a recent publication of Western and American historians, but also because the discussion turns on research dedicated to the historical profession in imperial Russia. Of course, distance implies not just geographical space but also the distance that separates Russian and American academic culture. However, as a poet said, "bol'shoe viditsia na rasstoianie" (great things are seen from a distance) and the Russian reader of this volume has a most promising opportunity to consider the Russian historiographical tradition from "the other side," through the prism of a different school of scholarship.

Historiography of Imperial Russia is a fundamental study that illuminates the development of historical scholarship in Russia over the course of more than 200 years. The book presents the basic schools and tendencies of Russian historiography, its most illustrious personalities, as well as its "marginal," less-studied aspects – for example, the Jewish and Ukrainian national historiographical traditions. For the Russian reader, this is a long-awaited publication. Since the historiographical works of Nikolai Leonidovich Rubinshtein, Aleksandr Lvovich Shapiro, and Anatolii Mikhailovich Sakharov, no general works on the history of the historical discipline in Russia have appeared, even though the crisis of Soviet ideology with the surviving dogmas of its time would make the appearance of such a work in contemporary Russia more than timely.1 By an "irony of history" (one of the favorite expressions of Western [End Page 794] historians and, in particular, the contributors to this volume), the need for this type of historiographical work was felt more strongly beyond Russia's borders. For American Russian studies, in turn, this volume in a certain sense represents an effort to take stock of a research tradition that spans a half-century. As is well known, Russian history in the United States and the Russian historical profession are connected by a genealogical relationship: the works of the first wave of Russian émigrés, such as Michael Karpovich, George Vernadsky and others, laid the foundations for the study of Russian history in the United States. For this reason, the participation of Marc Raeff – author and representative of "Russia Abroad"2 – in the volume is profoundly symbolic, as is the appearance in the volume of works of the contemporary Russian researchers Margarita Vandalkovskaia, Boris Anan'ich, Viktor Paneiakh, and Aleksei Tsamutali.

Each essay in the collection has its own particular tone and topic. This selection of original research does not pretend to be either encyclopedic or all-encompassing: there is an essay on the little-known and unpopular 19th-century historian Mikhail Trofimovich Kachenovskii, but, for example, there is no special contribution dedicated to the legacy of Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin (who still enjoys wide popularity in Russia) or the historical comparativist Nikolai Pavlovich Pavlov-Sil'vanskii. In spite of this lacuna and although Historiography of Imperial Russia is a collection of essays by various authors (among whom are both distinguished senior scholars and young historians), it gives the impression of an integrated whole. As Thomas Sanders notes, the goal of the volume was to create a "conceptually coherent collection" and present the reader with "information imbedded in an interpretive framework," avoiding "the soporific citation of authors and titles" (ix). This goal has certainly been achieved, in no small part due...


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