Rivals of the Twentieth Century: Coexistance and Competition
Martina Winkler: New Worlds? Russian Mental discoveries of the Northwest Pacific Region
33 Martina Winkler New Worlds? Russian Mental discoveries of the Northwest Pacific Region1 The Alaska Purchase of 1867 belongs to the common trove of historical cu- riosities, yet the history of Russian possessions in America has been success- fully buried into oblivion. Modern patterns of political and geographical cultures do not fit well with this episode of Russian expansion, and the fact that there once was a “Russian America” seems odd and even uncomfortable to many observers.2 European and American notions of global geography are not only based on a very strong continental system that tends to imagine continents as enclosed and self-contained and to equate them with specific cultures.3 Modern Western conceptions also often consider the North American continent congruent with the United States of America. From this perspective of mingled political and geographic boundaries, any physical presence of Russia – the other superpower of the twentieth century – on the home continent of the United States quite logically appears to be wrong. In addition, Western mental maps as well as, in fact, two-dimensional “real” maps often do not acknowledge the relative proximity between the Russian East and the American west coast. Finally, America is usually located in “the West” and defined as “the world beyond the Atlantic ocean.”4 There are thus various reasons why the Russian “discovery” of the American continent from the Pacific rather than the Atlantic might seem strange and out of place. Many scholarly books on imperialism and 1 This is a slightly revised version of...
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