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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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12 From the Russian Past to the Soviet Present


What links the Soviet present with the Russian past? In one form or another this question is frequently put to historians—by their students in class, by colleagues and friends, by representatives of the media, and even by government officials.

One can point, in reply, to obvious linguistic and closely related cultural continuities: the Russian language, its roots reaching deep into the Middle Ages, is overwhelmingly the language of the Soviet Union, just as it was of the empire that preceded it; and language is never—cannot be—entirely value free.

There are fundamental geopolitical constants as well: the Russian state has been the largest territorial entity in the world since the seventeenth century, its borders have been the longest and most difficult to defend, and its principal neighbors—China and Europe—have been generally hostile to its pretensions, if not to its very existence. Plainly, these factors have always influenced the policies of Russia’s rulers; and with the arrival of such powerful rivals as Japan and the United States, they will continue to do so indefinitely.

The natural environment in which the history of the Russian people has unfolded since the beginning of the present millennium—its northerly location and frequently poor soils, its erratic rainfall and extreme continental climate, its short growing season—has of course also helped to determine the course of that history. It will continue to do so, we can be sure, technological advances notwithstanding.←205 | 206→

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