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14 From the Editors, New Political History of Empire From the EDITORS TOWARD A NEW POLITICAL HISTORY OF EMPIRE The current issue of Ab Imperio, planned within the annual program of the journal on Paradoxes of Modernization in the Russian Empire/Soviet Union, is focused on the political aspects of imperial and national history as well as on the theoretical problems that the researchers of socio-political processes and discourses face. The materials of the issue illuminate the specificity of the political in the imperial and national contexts and suggest possible interpretations of geographic, linguistic, social, and cultural realities through the prism of political history. There is a growing discussion of the need for some “new political history ” among historians of Russian history. This new trend is projected as a ground for reassessment of approaches to and interpretations of the political biography of Russia. The possibility of a new look at Russia’s political history appeared as a result of 1) the deliverance of post-Soviet historiography from the sociological determinism and ideological orthodoxy of Soviet Marxist historiography, 2) the increased importance of politics in the process of Russia’s transition to a new political regime. However, the first response to the post-Soviet conceptual challenges was a reincarnation of the “old” political history with its focus on political biography, history of the state, institutions, and political elites.As Russian historical scholarship catches up with the social and cultural history developed in the West, Russian historians and their foreign colleagues encounter the problem of incorporating the rich 15 Ab Imperio, 2/2002 legacy of social and cultural history into the field of political history, which faces the need of adaptating to the sophisticated methodological environment of contemporary humanities. The need to modernize political history is especially evident in the field of the history of empires. The search for a “new” political history is a recurrent issue in Western historical scholarship. Traditional historical writing was in fact the “old” political history, which studied and, to a certain extent, embodied the history of the state, rulers and political elite. Frequent waves of revisionism in 20th -century historical studies were attempts to depart from the traditional political history that was imbued with event-centered historical narrative, orientation toward “high” politics and hegemonic classes, and depiction of history from above. At the same time, finding itself under the pressure of methodological innovations in social and cultural history, as well as of the leftist political thought, political history underwent changes in its forms and approaches, retaining, though, its significance in a world in which states constitute “the basis of both our freedoms and our unfreedoms.” It is possible to assert that a “new political history” has emerged approximately every half a century. Indeed, although F. Guizot’s “The History of the English Revolution” (6 volumes, 1826–1856) was not labeled as “new” political history, it was only because of its absolute novelty, for it was the first contemporary historical work of that type. Guizot was among the first to attempt to extricate the space of the political proper from the traditional synergy of dynastic-institutional-eventful history. The label of the first “new” political history is usually attributed to the American historiographic tradition of the 1890s – 1910s associated with Frederick Jackson Turner. Much of its novelty was linked to Turner’s conceptualization of the specificity ofAmerican political history counterposed to the European tradition through a different model of party politics, the impact of the geographic factor on US political history (the very idea of frontier was a novel political concept), and regional specific features in general. The next wave of “new political history” surged in the US and Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Historians started to examine politics proper with the help of modern statistical models and quantitative methods, which ranged from the content analysis of political rhetoric to the investigation of correlation of factors that influenced the electorate. At the same time an attempt was made to reconsider the field of political history from the perspective of social science theories and concepts. This new turn in political history acknowledged the variety of contacts and transfers between political 16 From the Editors, New...


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