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14 From the Editors From the EDITORS The idea to devote the thematic program of the journal in 2008 to the problem of “gardening empire” emerged from discussions during the seminar held inAugust 2007 in Kazan, Russia. The seminar was organized by the Ab Imperio editorial team and historians from Mainz University, Germany.An international group of scholars representing historical studies of empire from the Russian Federation, former Soviet Union countries, Europe and the US attended the event. Most participants were specialists in the history of Eastern Europe and the Russian empire, while the role of the seminar’s discussant was taken up by Ann Laura Stoler, an expert on colonialism and Western overseas empires. It was the discussant who drew the attention of the participants to the significant difference between the research agendas of the studies of Eastern European empires (at least as presented at the seminar) on the one hand, and colonial empires, on the other. This critical commentary triggered a fruitful discussion of “exceptionalism ,” both as a mode of self-description of imperial regimes and as a persistent modus operandi of historical understanding of empires. Since the age of classical antiquity until today empires or composite polities have been founded on some idea of their own uniqueness and exceptional historical path. This conception was dialectically transformed into a strategic vision of imperial universalism that prioritized imperial loyalties over regional, ethnic, confessional, and social identities and relegated the latter to the domain of the local and particular. While this 15 Ab Imperio, 1/2008 perception of exceptionalism can be found in many different schools of historiographic thought about empire, it is in the history of Russia that it is often expressed most visibly due to historical context. The relative absence in Russian studies of such phenomena (traditional for the studies of colonial empires) as marginalization, power operation in the domain of the intimate, and “carnal knowledge” surprised the seminar participants. This situation naturally invites a conclusion about the exceptional nature of Russian imperial experience and exceptionalism as a mode of history writing about empire. A series of questions emerged from the encounter between different academic traditions in studies of empire. Should historians aspire for a meta-interpretative framework that would account for peculiarities of that imperial experience from the view point of an external observer? Or, alternatively, should they reproduce and creatively re-work the trope of exceptionalism provided to us by languages of self-description or historiography (looking at exceptionalism as a norm and the way in which imperial political and social spaces function)? It appears obvious that those practices explored by post-colonial studies – manipulation of power, drawing of boundaries between categories of citizens, sanitary projects of “cleansing” societies from “infected” or “polluted” elements – are all characteristics of modern colonialism. A lack or presence of these lines of inquiry in the research agenda is taken to be a proof of the archaic or modernizing imperium. At the same time, the question can be reversed: is the conclusion about the archaic nature of the Russian Imperium an outcome of peculiar historical experiences, or is it a result of historiographic inertia and uncritical reading of the reification of imperial archaism in the languages of self-description and political contestation? The “Theory and Methodology” section in the current issue addresses these questions. In particular, Nicholas Breyfogle demonstrates that contemporary historiography exhibits the coexistence of different interpretative paradigms: from “modernizing” to those that reproduce the “archaism” and “exceptionalism” of Russian imperial experience. Is this historiographic polyphony a reflection of multiple layers and vectors of the real historical time in empire? (In this case, a proper research agenda is always determined by the choice of a particular set of individual imperial situations and contexts.) Can this be taken as the ultimate reflection of imperial exceptionalism? An empire that Ann Stoler missed in the papers of colleagues dealing with Eastern Europe may be called the “gardening empire” – an analog 16 From the Editors to the “gardening state” of Zygmunt Bauman. This notion presupposes the existence of the interventionist state whose power is based on modern scientific knowledge pertaining to nature, society, and politics. This knowledge entails practices of governance for “cultivation,” rationalization...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2164-9731
Print ISSN
2166-4072
Pages
pp. 14-18
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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