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Regular version of the site

Book

Russia's Empires

Suny R. G., Kivelson V. A.

Combining the talents and expert knowledge of an early modern historian of Russia and of a Soviet specialist, Russia's Empires is the first major study of the entire sweep of Russian history from its earliest formations to the rule of Vladimir Putin. Looking through the lens of empire, which the authors conceptualize as a state based on institutionalized differentiation, inequitable hierarchy, and bonds of reciprocity between ruler and ruled, Kivelson and Suny displace the centrality of nation and nationalism in the Russian and Soviet story. Yet their work demonstrates how imperial polities were key to the creation of national identifications and processes that both hindered and fostered what would become nations and nation-states. Using the concept of empire, they look at the ways that ordinary people imagined their position within a non-democratic polity - whether the Muscovite tsardom or the Soviet Union - and what concessions the rulers had to make, or appear to make, in order to establish their authority and preserve their rule. 

While other works in the existing historical literature have applied the concept of empire to the study of Russian history, the story told here is in several ways unique. First, the book tackles the long stretch of the history of the region, from the murkiest beginnings to its most recent yesterday, and follows the vicissitudes of empire, the absence, the coalescence, the setbacks of imperial aspirations, across the centuries. The authors do not impose the category, but find it a productive lens for tracking developments over time. Second, the framework of empire allows them to address pressing questions of how various forms of non-democratic governance managed to succeed and survive, or, alternatively, what caused them to collapse and disappear. Studying Russia's long history in an imperial guise encourages the reader to attend to forms of inclusion, displays of reciprocity, and manifestations of ideology that might otherwise go unnoted, overlooked under the bleak record of coercion and oppression that so often characterizes ideas about Russia.

Russia's Empires follows imperial patterns of rule through distinction, inclusion through reciprocity, and structures for legitimacy in order to trace the experiences of empire by both rulers and ruled. The book traces the coalescence and development of imperial relationships across more than a thousand years. This book brings histories of the peripheries and of the growth and rule of empire into central narratives based in Moscow and Leningrad or Petersburg, in order to understand all the pieces as part of an interrelated whole. The book brings together stories of despots and dictators at the center with those of people of all classes, conditions, and nationalities who jointly made the Russian Empire.

Russia's Empires