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  • Models, Margins, and Imperial Entanglements

The present issue of Kritika develops a theme that we initially raised in our last "From the Editors" column: the interactions and borrowings among empires on Europe's periphery. Troubled by the tendency in the historiography to construe models for Russia almost exclusively in terms of the practices and institutions of Western and North–Central Europe—above all Britain, France, and Germany—the journal's editors sought in 2009 to initiate a conversation about Russia's engagement with other states and societies located at the margins both of the European continent and of mainstream histories of Europe. Such a conversation was the central goal of Kritika's St. Petersburg workshop "Models on the Margins: Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Spain," the source of the six essays published in this issue.1

The question of how countries on Europe's margins interacted and regarded one another has considerable historical and conceptual implications. The comparative history of empires has by now established a venerable tradition; and the Russian and Ottoman empires, sometimes together with the Habsburg monarchy, have figured prominently in such comparisons.2 But the "entangled" character of these imperial histories—the ways in which their development was [End Page 275] conditioned by interaction and transimperial contacts—represents a somewhat newer line of inquiry. As Andreas Kappeler remarks in his comments, this approach is connected with a contemporary historiographical trend toward the study of cultural transfers, transnational history, and histoire croisée—a trend to which Kritika itself has devoted three previous special issues.3 Judging from two important publications in 2010, the history of empire, or "imperiology,"4 is emerging as an especially important terrain for the study of cultural and institutional transfers, cross-border contacts, and the politics of emulation.5 Gábor Ágoston's comparative analysis of the early modern Ottoman and Russian armed forces shows that the traditional approach continues to provide valuable insights. Most of the contributions to this issue, however, exemplify the broader shift from comparative to entangled history.

Focusing on the margins of Europe invites us to complicate received understandings of "Westernization" and "Europeanization" and to contest the discourse of "catching up" with the West, so often employed by historical actors themselves. The issue is not just that the "West" and "Europe" were themselves diverse entities rather than a unified whole with a distinct self-consciousness, but also that situating Russia in a different geographical configuration can reveal patterns and tendencies that remain hidden when we focus exclusively on a conventional "West." As Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper write in the context of analyzing Peter the Great, "A more worldly perspective, including empires around the globe with their multiple and interactive pasts, allows us to see Peter with his advisors, officials, and subordinates continuing along their prior imperial pathway, applying the pragmatic, absorptive, mixing, and evolving practices of Russian governance."6 The simple fact is that the West was not the only source of models for either Russia as a whole or its many constituents. Likewise, [End Page 276] there are broader trends and trajectories, aside from those involving the West, in which the Russian historical process should be situated.

In the essays that follow, Western models are far from irrelevant, but neither do they tell the whole story. As Ekaterina Pravilova shows, for example, Russian officials in the Caucasus and Central Asia drew on French colonial experiences when they engaged with Muslim conceptions of land and property, but the Ottoman Land Code of 1858—which admittedly resembled the French Civil Code—was no less important and ultimately played a crucial role in legitimizing their efforts to claim property in conquered Muslim regions for the state. We learn from Victor Taki that although Western accounts of the Ottoman Empire did much to shape Russians' conception of the "Eastern" neighbor to their south, the experience of military conflict—and thus direct contact—was a powerful influence as well, especially in the early stages. Last, Adeeb Khalid shows that although the leaders of the People's Soviet Republic of Bukhara could, of course, speak the language of European socialism (or at least Bolshevism) when dealing with Moscow, it was to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 275-280
Launched on MUSE
2011-04-28
Open Access
No
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