The Romanov Empire and Nationalism: Essays in the Methodology of Historical Research

By Alexei Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
RUSSIFICATION OR RUSSIFICATIONS?

The more we learn about the regional peculiarities of interactions surrounding ethnicity and nationalism in various parts of the Romanov Empire the less satisfied we are with numerous overstretched notions that have functioned in historiography for a long time. Among those notions is the term “russification.”

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the one that emerged in nationalism studies in the early 1990s and prompted John Hall to write his remarkable article “Nationalisms: Classified and Explained.” In his polemic with the authors who in the 1980s were engaged in an attempt to create an all embracing theory of nationalism, Hall demonstrated that this term signifies a whole array of phenomena and processes that vary significantly depending on the circumstances of time and place. “No single, universal theory of nationalism is possible. Since the historical record is diverse, so too must be our concepts,” was his central claim.1 What was becoming the primary goal, in Hall's view, was a description of nationalisms in their specific manifestations, a classification and explanation of their diversity.

Following Hall's example, I believe it is more correct to speak not of russification in the singular, but of “russifications,” i.e. of a whole cluster of various processes and interactions that often differ not in some minor detail in the manifestation of a general principle but in their inner logic and nature. The obvious question arises: how useful is the term “russification” itself? Further on, I will make some suggestions on the limitation of its use. Practice shows, however, that any complicated conventions in regard to terminology do not take root easily or, at least, immediately. The main task now is to highlight “russification” as a problematic concept in the hope that a more selective and conscious use of it will gradually assert itself in historiography.

If we read in a study that the authorities in a particular place and in a particular time “pursued the policy of russification,” can we imagine, on the basis

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