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Revolutions and the Making of the Modern World

From Peter the Great to Karl Marx

James Cracraft

Edited By William Benton Whisenhunt

Professor James Cracraft is an established specialist on early modern Russian history, particularly the era of Peter the Great (1682-1725), tsar and first Russian emperor. This volume gathers some of the many key articles and reviews published by him over the last forty years and more in a wide variety of scholarly venues, some of which are not readily accessible. They constitute in sum important contributions not only to Russian history broadly understood, but also to the study of history itself. The collection will include a preface by the editor and an introduction by the author, where he will sum up his decades of historical work and point to new avenues of needed research, all the while emphasizing that "history" properly understood does not exist somewhere on its own but is the creation, however imperfect, of professional historians (as "chemistry", say, is properly understood as the work, however imperfect, of professional chemists).

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1 The Revolution of Peter the Great


Historians traditionally have viewed the reign of Peter the Great (1689–1725) as marking, or completing, the transition in Russia from medieval to modern times. To be sure, a minority of historians, specialists on earlier periods in Russian history, have scoffed at the suggestion that anything really new occurred during Peter’s reign. All the really important developments, they argue, confusing opportunities with actualities, the swallow with the summer, took place in the decades and even centuries before Peter came to the throne. Such developments, they conclude, were at best accelerated under Peter rather than initiated or transformed. But this remains a minority view. Most historiographical debate centers on the question of how and in what ways the Petrine era witnessed the birth of modern Russia. And the debate has fostered new looks at the voluminous records surviving from the era, both visual and verbal, as well as renewed quests for fresh evidence.1

The most obvious answer to our question points to political (including diplomatic) events. Russia under Peter became, for the first time, a full member of the European system of sovereign states. The system itself arose on the Italian peninsula in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and had spread from there to the rest of Europe. Dozens of principalities, dukedoms, and kingdoms (republics were few and far between) covered the continent by the end of the seventeenth ←3 | 4→century, the hereditary ruler of each area claiming “sovereignty” or absolute control of his territory and its governing...

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