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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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11 Russia Discovers America


Michael S. Flier’s elegant interdisciplinary studies of elite Muscovite political culture have emphasized its religious, even sacralized, essentially “medieval” character.1 His work has thereby helped to check, in a fresh, authoritative way, the tendency among some historians to antedate the onset of “modern times” in Russia by as much as a century or two.2 At issue, of course, is the significance to be assigned to the reign of Peter the Great (1689–1725) in East Slavic history, a question that some of us are now framing in cultural, rather than predominantly political, social, or economic, terms. This essay focuses on a single incident in what I’ve called the Petrine revolution in Russian culture—“Russian” understood in a loose, broadly imperialist (non-nationalist) sense: namely, the instantiation by Peter’s regime of fundamentally new (nonbiblical, post-classical, i.e. “modern”) terrestrial concepts. But before proceeding I must acknowledge here Michael’s sage and most helpful critique, while it was still in draft, of the larger study from which the present effort derives.3 I must also ask his indulgence of the essay’s quite portentous title.

Among the cultural goods transferred from Europe (western Europe, as we would now say) to Russia under Peter was geography, a word that encompassed studies and activities relating mainly to cartography, navigation, geodesy, and surveying, each having close affinities with astronomy as well as mathematics. ←195 | 196→The transfer has been closely examined by historians.4 For present purposes we need only observe generally that geography thus understood was taught in...

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