Description of the project
Almost two decades ago global historiography experienced a major turn towards thinking seriously about empires as forms of power, units of constitution of global order, mechanisms of globalization and growing connectedness of the world, and instruments of management of population’s and territorial diversity. Historically variegated imperial formations are now held by historians as constitutive of historical experience prior to the twentieth century. Historical research on empires has helped destabilize European exclusivity of historical narrative and profoundly contributed to the critique of national history as a form of telling the story about the past. Studies of nationalism more and more come to the understanding of national political imagination and mobilization as a response to the diversity and hybridity of the imperial context, and an attempt to both unmake an imperial space of multiple and intersecting belongings and build on the legacy of imperial categorizations and rule.
The project’s main goal is to chart the experience of the Russian Empire and early Soviet Union on the global map of comparative history of empire, colonialism, and nationalism. This project has an assumption about the nature of these imperial formations as compared to other imperial formations. In our view, much of the comparative history of empires has focused on the wrong end because of an unexamined assumption that an imperial formation has an internal and coherent logic built into it: for example, that the Russian Empire can only be meaningfully comprehended as a dynastic and centralized system of rule. Much of the recent historiography demonstrates that imperial formations were complex systems wherein hybridity and exceptions were the norm. Russian imperial practices varied significantly from the Baltic provinces to Turkestan as did the British rule from the Raj to the dominions. Moreover, ideological underpinnings of imperial rule and practices of imperial direct and indirect government changed much over time due to the continuous eruption of imperial crises in the global imperial history.
The present project focuses on the phenomenon of imperial crisis as an endogamous concept of imperial history. The imperial crisis is conceived of as both a political challenge to the established pattern of the imperial and the intellectual and an ideological revolution that imparts certain ways of thinking about society and politics and produces a rupture in imperial politics and society. The imperial crisis is both the product of hybridity and exceptionalist treatment of imperial space and a productive phase of reformulation of imperial politics. The phenomenon of imperial crisis provides a convenient frame for the comparative history of global empires and imperial strategies of management of diversity.
Russian imperial history is married to a series of imperial crises, notwithstanding the view of Russian historiography on the fundamental continuity of the Russian imperial state. The reforms of Peter the Great and their forced cultural and political change in Muscovy stand as the archetypical example of the productive symbiosis of imperial rule and imperial crisis that indeed produced a symbolic rupture in the Russian history and unprecedented possibilities for imperial expansion of the Petrine state.
The project centers on much more modern phases of imperial crises and realignment of Russian imperial politics: the Great Reforms of the middle of the nineteenth century and revolutions of the early twentieth century.
1) One part of research project will focus on the rise of central nationalisms and technocratic visions of the modern state as a response to the imperial crisis. This research will cast a comparative perspective on the crisis of the Ottoman and Russian empires in the early twentieth century in an attempt to elucidate the peculiarities of the Armenian genocide, political revolutions, and civil wars that accompanied the collapse of those imperial formations in the context of the WWI.
2) Another part of this research project will center on discourses of federalism, autonomism, and regionalism and the political movements that stood behind the agenda of imperial reform and remaking of the Russian imperial political space without the radical turn to the homogenizing policies of the integral nation-state. This research will ascertain the extent of the spread of supranational political visions at the turn of the century (the period of presumed triumph of the idiom of nation-state) and the origins of these visions in intellectual, scientific, and political circumstances of the history of the Russian Empire and global history of the reforming imperial regimes. A subset of this research will scrutinize the historical semantics of key terms of the discourse of supranational politics at turn of the centuries: federalism, autonomy, minority, self-determination. Another subset of this research will be devoted to growing territorialization of discourses and practices of imperial politics. In this subpart of the research participants will explore the impact of territorialized imperial politics (the relational understanding of territory dependent on the map of legal pluralism and the ethnic and confessional map of the population) and the symbolic conquest of territory by entrepreneurs of national identity on the formation of post-imperial political imagination of supranational space and early Soviet federalism.
3) The third part of the project will be devoted to the formation of the early Soviet confederative and federal political system and will scrutinize the impact of local society and activists on the formation of the hybrid and post-imperial regime of Soviet ethno-territorial federation.