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The Enigmatic Tsar and His Empire

Russia under Alexander I. 1801–1825


Edited By Alexander Kaplunovsky, Jan Kusber and Benjamin Conrad

In many ways Russia under Alexander I was an epoch of exploration and revision of empire and state-building. The authors of this volume explore the Alexandrine-era Russia not from the traditional vantage point of the emperor and his inner circle but from the point of view of experts and elites. These «men on the spot» drafted «maps» of the empire and its collective subjects and constructed social, political, and economic imaginaries of the empire. All these revisions and projects did not necessarily lead to an immediate and consistent (re)organization of the political, social, and cultural structures of imperial space. The Alexandrine Russia may be interpreted much more as a «laboratory» in which different potential scenarios for modernization were designed, discussed, and tested—but also rejected and forgotten.

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Alexander I, the Russian Empire, and the “Sattelzeit” 1790–1830 (Jan Kusber)


Jan Kusber

Alexander I, the Russian Empire, and the “Sattelzeit” 1790–1830

1. A “Sattelzeit” within the Russian Empire?

One may say that any period in history is a transitional one. This is of course true not only in general but also for the Russian Empire. The turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth century, a time period called Sattelzeit by the late Reinhart Koselleck, is perhaps a special one. Koselleck had not Russia in mind but the Germanies when he described the period between 1750 and 1830 as a slow and uneven breakthrough of modernity on various fields of society and culture.1 Politically, the “Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation” was in decay and swept away during the Napoleonic Wars and was reerected as the loosely organized “German Confederation.”2 Within this period dramatic changes took place that led to the long path of a many-faced modernity. How about Russia?

Whereas the Catherinean age after the Pugachev uprising was a period of relative internal stability,3 the Alexandrine age was not. The War of 1812 shook empire and society in the short and long run. The internal reforms of the great empress gave the empire in many ways a frame in which to develop; the rule of her grandson pushed the reforms further—in some fields in a more experimental way. The Europeanization of the elite by enlightened, sometimes protonational concepts, the challenge of the French Revolution during the last years of...

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