Andrew Gentes, Exile to Siberia, 1590-1822: Corporeal Commodification and Administrative Systematization in Russia

Article excerpt

Andrew Gentes, Exile to Siberia, 1590-1822: Corporeal Commodification and Administrative Systematization in Russia. 256 pp. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. ISBN-13 978-0230536937. $89.00.

V. D. Puzanov, Voennye faktory russkoi kolonizatsii zapadnoi Sibiri, konets XVIXVII vv. (Military Factors in the Russian Colonization of Western Siberia in the Late 16th and 17th Centuries). 431 pp. St. Petersburg: Aleteiia, 2010. ISBN-13 978-5914192683.

Christoph Witzenrath, Cossacks and the Russian Empire, 1598-1725: Manipulation, Rebellion, and Expansion into Siberia. 277 pp. New York: Routledge, 2007. ISBN-13 978-0415416214. $170.00.

The inscription of Siberia onto the "mental maps" of empire makers and simple subjects alike has driven important contributions in Sibirevedenie, and the trend is by no means exhausted. (1) The studies under review here, in contrast, provide valuable "boots on the ground" perspectives on Siberia. While not insensitive to the question of perception, they explore how the Russian state incorporated and administered this imperial space, whether through the building and manning of fortifications (Puzanov); the military--administrative functions executed by Cossacks (Witzenrath); and the mobilization of the exile system to meet labor and settlement needs (Gentes). As such, we might classify them as part of what Andreas Kappeler has called a second wave of imperiology, exploring the "how" of empire. (2)

The three studies are also united by the fact that they are organized around categories of people: exiles in Gentes's case; military servitors in Puzanov's; and Cossacks for Witzenrath. While these studies are not squarely social history, they are substantially inflected with it. Largely as a result of the source base, state policy and institutions shape the narratives. This focus on people underscores a prominent aspect of the history of Siberia: the chronic, ubiquitous human resource challenges that administering Siberia posed. The Russian state constantly struggled against insufficient labor and competence, an inescapable fact that reverberates through each of these studies. Gentes shows that from Peter's reign onward, exiles were deliberately used to fulfill labor and then settlement imperatives. For Puzanov, labor supply greatly informed not only the dynamics of army dispatches along the fortification lines that he describes but also agricultural initiatives in Siberia. In Witzenrath's study, it was the state's considerable dependence upon Cossack labor that enabled this group to wield such leverage against central authority.

Nor does the question of the driving force behind Russian conquest--an enduring staple of Siberian historiography--generate significant disagreement in these three interpretations. (3) The militarized and state-directed nature of Siberian expansion and the society there emerges as a compelling feature in all of these books. Puzanov, holding populist interpretations of Siberian history directly in his historiographical crosshairs, assigns the state a central role. Gentes's narrative emphasizes the state over individual initiative in Muscovy's initial advances into Siberia. Even Witzenrath, who argues that the state in Moscow was at the mercy of its servitors on the periphery, nonetheless explores dynamics in question within (even if not entirely coextensive with) an overarching state apparatus.

Exile to Siberia, 1590-1822, the first volume in a promised trilogy, traces the institutional development of the exile system, reconstructs the Siberian experience of exile, and draws lessons about imperial Russia's failure to reform. (4) Given the associations of Siberia with exile and the popularity of Gulag literature, it is surprising to realize the gap in English-language scholarship that this study fills. Although a recent spate of scholarship has begun to rewrite the history of punishment from corporal, cultural, and legal perspectives, one harkens back to George Kennan for an extensive Englishlanguage treatment of the exile system. …