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  • A Window to the South The Russian Empire, the Black Sea, and Beyond
  • Michel Abesser (bio)
Brian L. Davies, The Russo-Turkish War, 1768–1774: Catherine II and the Ottoman Empire. 344 pp., illus. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. ISBN-13 978-1472512932. £81.00.
Patricia Herlihy, Odessa Recollected: The Port and the People. 268 pp., illus. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2018. ISBN-13 978-161811736. $42.00.
Ulrich Hofmeister and Kerstin Jobst, eds., "Krimtataren,"Special issue of Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften/Austrian Journal of Historical Studies28, 1(2017).

For decades, Western historiography has critically addressed Vasilii Kliuchevskii's famous idea of Russia's expansion toward the Black Sea as the natural end of Russian colonial expansion. While the inclusion of southern Russian and Ukrainian territories into the empire undoubtedly marked a watershed in its history, the motifs and aims, as well as the process itself and its short- and long-term consequences, continue to offer ground for debate. The southern parts of the Russian Empire acquired between the late 17th and the early 19th centuries have stimulated research directly related to the character of the empire itself. Among them are issues of foreign policy, migration, various aspects of state building, and the increasing entanglement with the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Ottoman world. This window to the south deeply affected the empire's economic, cultural, and religious fortunes and, unlike Peter I's access to the Baltic, opened up the empire to Europe and Asia. The complex social and ethnic fabric established east of the Danube, west of [End Page 843]the Don, south of Kiev, and north of Sevastopol´ contributed to the diversity of the Russian Empire and provided it with opportunities and challenges during the last century of its existence. Several scholars have expanded the scope of Russian imperial analysis by including its maritime dimensions as transnational spaces. 1Since Charles King published The Black Sea: A History, the sea has attracted increasing attention as a region with overlapping imperial, economic, and cultural developments. 2Both the Black Sea Research Project and the Black Sea Networks at Columbia University testify to rising interest among scholars engaging in the economic, political, social, and cultural histories of the Black Sea. 3The newly founded Journal of Balkan and Black Sea Studiesdemonstrates that this topic not only bridges the history of different regions such as the Balkan, Caucasus, Ottoman, and Russian realms and their respective methods but various national scientific cultures as well. 4

Increasingly, the Black Sea stimulates scholarly interest not only as a barrier separating the Balkans from the Caucasus or the Russian Empire from the Ottoman but also as a region in itself. 5This shift in perspective opens up new questions and problems. A recent workshop on the Black Sea at the University of Basel discussed possible paradigms. First, the sea, which lost its Asiatic character between 1750 and 1850, can be considered an arena of military and symbolic conflict between the Russian and Ottoman Empires and increasingly the Western powers of Britain, France, and Austria. The conflict between the Porte and St. Petersburg was based on entirely different strategic premises regarding the sea and its surrounding lands. Whereas Ottoman power could be secured for a long period by keeping the sea calm while its [End Page 844]vassals and allies kept the "Wild Field" restless, Russian expansion aimed at stability on land and regarded the Black Sea as an Ottoman weakness for military incursions by Cossack pirates. Not only the sea's importance for military campaigns changed drastically over time; so did the different projection of imperial power onto the sea itself. Some of the inhabitants of its shores experienced premodern, imperial, and national forms of rule within a century. How did these people navigate these changes? Are there specific common patterns that cross political territory, social strata, or religion?

Second, regarding cultural, economic, and migrational questions, the Black Sea constitutes a hub. The forced opening to non-Ottoman seafaring from the late 18th century onward not only increased the number of goods and persons that crossed the sea but established new spatial connections and migration patterns while redirecting old ones. These...