The Imperial Turn


Since roughly 1991, the Russian field has undergone numerous changes. In fact, one should now say the Russian and Eurasian field, for among the most striking developments has been the explosive growth of studies on what might be called the imperial dimensions to Russian and Soviet history. (1) Much as Social Democrats in Russia at the turn of the 20th century used to put the "nationality question" last on the agenda at party meetings, so Russian and Soviet historians often marginalized--or did not consider at all--a range of issues relating to non-Russian nationalities, ethnicity and nationalism, borderlands and non-Russian groups, national identities and representations of empire. (2) To be sure, fundamental studies appeared, but it is safe to say that this set of issues gravitated toward the margins rather than remaining at the center of the field's attention. The imperial turn in the historiography occurred not just because the Soviet Union broke up into 15 newly independent states in 1991, but because that particular owl of Minerva came on the heels of a quantum leap in the general theory of nationalism and ethnicity in the human sciences. (3) For many years now, study of Russia as a polyethnic state has been one of the fastest-growing and fastest-moving fields of scholarship in the Eurasian area. How has this changed the field?

Let us first refine the question. The imperial boom has persisted for over a decade; already, attempts to take stock are being pursued and a range of collected works have been published. (4) Kritika has also been a participant in this process--the third volume of Kritika Historical Studies, released by Slavica Publishers in November 2006, is entitled Orientalism and Empire in Russia. Aimed especially at classroom use and with scholars in other fields in mind, it brings together work in this area published in the first seven volumes of Kritika and some previously unpublished works on Russian Oriental Studies. Preparing this volume has prompted us to look back at what the journal has published in this area since its founding and to think more broadly about the contours of the new literature. The question we would like to pose here, though, is not primarily internal to the new historiography of empire. Rather, it concerns how this scholarly trend has affected--or, better to say, could affect--grand narratives of Russian history.

To unpack this question is, unquestionably, an interpretive act. Research in new areas often first develops as a new trend or subfield, then begins to change the texture of writing in the field more generally, and only after quite some time has an impact on the level of overall historical interpretations of the kind produced in general histories or told to students in textbooks. At present, it seems clear that there are a number of ways in which the growing body of literature holds implications for our understandings of Russian and Soviet history, even if their precise contours remain subject to debate. In the main, they address neither long-standing lacunae (although those are legion) nor truly macro-level conclusions about Russian history (for those will always be closely tied to political orientation, methodological allegiance, and philosophical dispute). Rather, a whole series of significant, "mid-level" interpretive conclusions emerge from the new literature that appear to affect broader historical narratives.

For example, for many decades, narratives about tsarist Russia revolved around its "decline and fall," whereas histories of the Soviet period often implied a new, almost unprecedented epoch grounded in the radical historical break of 1917. Both paradigms, of course, are not easily dismissed outright, and there were alternatives to them in the literature. However, from today's perspective, our far greater understanding of Russia's multinational character prompts greater appreciation of the forces holding the tsarist empire together for so long and, by the same token, of the long-term challenges and continuities affecting the multinational Soviet Union.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Imperial Turn
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?