The Economy and Material Culture of Russia, 1600-1725

Article excerpt

Richard Hellie. The Economy and Material Culture of Russia, 1600-1725. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. xi, 671 pp. Tables. Figures. Bibliography. Index. $42.00, cloth.

In earlier works, such as Enserfment and Military Change in Muscovy (1971), Slavery in Russia, 1450-1725 (1982), and The Muscovite Law Code (Ulozhenie) of 1649 (1987), Richard Hellie revealed his research interest in the economic, social and legal history of early modern Russia. His latest book is a fascinating study devoted to the economy and material culture of Russia during a very significant epoch. By 1600 Russia began to experience a period of disorder and strife (i.e., the Time of Troubles) which threatened it with dissolution and foreign rule; whereas by 1725 Russia became a great European power.

Hellie seeks to reveal to both specialists and those generally interested in the history of economy and material culture, the type of goods available in Russia and their cost. From these two issues, relating to commodities and prices, Hellie develops his topic in numerous directions, using thousands of examples drawn from a base of 107,000 records found chiefly in printed Russian primary and secondary sources. Hellie assembles this vast corpus of information into a single book. His is a very unique endeavour, for there are no comparable one-volume sources on any other country and covering a century and a quarter.

Hellie's book is organized in a logical manner. The preface communicates his goals and offers explanations, such as, for example, why a broader comparative perspective has not been utilized. Chapter 1, primarily intended for the benefit of the non-specialist, is extremely well done. Especially interesting is the summary of conclusions reached by David Hackett Fischer, in his The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythms of History (1996). Hellie's commentary on them from the Russian historical perspective is very valuable. Chapters 2 (on agricultural products) to 23 (on taxes) comprise the core of Hellie's study. Chapter 24 is a special addition devoted to the analysis of the great wealth of Mikhail Ignat'evich Tatishchev and Vasilii Vasil]evich Golitsyn. Chapter 25 comprises a solid conclusion. Two appendices follow. The first relates to the various units used in the monograph, which are essential for a proper understanding of the economy and material culture of early modern Russia. The second, forms a detailed and extremely valuable analysis of the sources and data used in the monograph. Finally a bibliography and a much-needed topical index close the book.

Each chapter represents a meticulous analysis of a certain category of consumer goods and a summary of transactions involving them, as well as a needed presentation of definitions relating to significant names or terms. …


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