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  • The Enchantment of an Earlier Black Sea, 1768–1856
  • Sara Dickinson (bio)
Mara Kozelsky, Crimea in War and Transformation. Maps, illus., xii + 280 pp. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. ISBN-13 978-0190644710. $74.00.
Kelly O'Neill, Claiming Crimea: A History of Catherine the Great's Southern Empire. Maps, tables, illus.; xix + 361 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. ISBN-13 978-0300218299. $65.00.
Andrew C. Rath, The Crimean War in Imperial Context, 1854–1856. Maps, xxiv + 301 pp. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. ISBN-13 978-1137544513. $109.99.
Andrew Robarts, Migration and Disease in the Black Sea Region: Ottoman-Russian Relations in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries. Maps, illus., xii + 268 pp. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. ISBN-13 978-1474259491. $130.00.

The Black Sea's relevance for global geopolitics is hardly news in 2019. Important for European self-definition since ancient Greece, it represented the limit of Asia for Aeschylus and later separated a Christian Europe from the specter of Islam. Indeed, the globe itself is arguably the product of ripples that began on the Black Sea in the 15th century (1475), when the Ottomans shut down the last of the foreign (largely Genoese) trading colonies on the littoral and transformed what had been a "Genoese lake" into an Ottoman one. In so doing, they interrupted income from the Silk Road that had fed directly into the coffers of the Republic of Genoa and provoked a reorientation of Genoese [End Page 827] commerce and finance toward the Atlantic, fatefully reshaping the horizon of professional opportunity available to a young and ambitious Cristoforo Colombo. In the late 1700s, the Black Sea became important for mediating Russian identity in the West and, as empires continued to jostle against one another on its shores in the centuries that followed, it played a key role in a number of large-scale conflicts, ranging from the Crimean War to two world wars, the Russian Civil War, and the Turkish War of Independence. Each of these altered political maps, reshaping empires, sometimes overturning and/or reconstituting them or flanking them with new neighbors. The boom in Crimean studies that has followed Russia's seizure of the peninsula in 2014 testifies to the region's continued political, military, and symbolic importance. Those who turn to history for some perspective on recent events will find much of interest in these four books focusing on the years from 1768 to 1856 and illustrating how our notions of Crimea, the Black Sea region, and Russia's place in the world have been shaped by events and relationships from that period.

Each of these books explores notions of periphery or borderland by highlighting new approaches to them: terms such as multiple centers, networks, diasporas, plural identities, and diverse theaters of war encourage us to reconsider the Black Sea, Russia, the world, and the Crimean War from less Russocentric and Eurocentric perspectives. Moreover, all of these volumes describe an era of accelerating modernity: expanding political borders and state bureaucracies; changes in civil society and administrative practices; improved geographical and scientific knowledge; and advancements in medicine, weaponry, and naval engineering; together with modernity's human casualties. The emerging composite—which features a plethora of actors and events, cultures, motivations, and points of view on an immense geographical backdrop extending from the Black Sea to the Baltic and White Seas to wide swaths of the Pacific—constitutes a very rich picture on a surprisingly broad canvas.

Poet Marina Tsvetaeva, writing in 1913 of "the enchantment of an earlier Crimea" (ocharovanie prezhnego Kryma), struck a nostalgic chord that echoes in three of the books under review (Robarts, O'Neill, Kozelsky).1 Indeed, articulating a sense of loss when speaking of Crimea seems almost as de rigeur as describing the peninsula (and other Black Sea locations) in terms of a kaleidoscopic mix of overlapping populations and their layered traces, the deposit of artifacts and memories accrued over millennia. Tsvetaeva's verse wistfully imagines what Crimea would have been like in the 1820s, during [End Page 828] Aleksandr Pushkin's legendary visit there, and superimposes her own longing on Pushkin's poetically expressed regret both for the...

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