the cambridge history of russia. vol. 2, imperial russia, 1689-1917by dominic lieven

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  • The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 2, Imperial Russia, 1689-1917 by Dominic LievenReview by: Susan MorrisseySlavic Review, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Spring, 2008), pp. 229-231Published by:Stable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 19:01

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  • Book Reviews 229

    events and some phenomena are neither explained nor satisfactorily placed in any larger framework. The volume includes at least four irreconcilable views on the nature of the

    Russian state. Ostrowski tells us that the basis of the state structure was Mongol (a view not

    widely accepted) and that the system rested on the consensus of the elite with a weak ruler

    ("the grand prince of Muscovy ruled with sharply circumscribed powers," 215). Hellie, in his various chapters, prefers to think of the state as "hypertrophie" (364), with

    an au

    tocratic ruler who followed the sixth-century Byzantine deacon Agapetus in thinking he

    was God's vicegerent on earth. Poe, who sees basic continuity across the two centuries,

    believes that the ruling elite was greedy and power-hungry and the tsar was one of them,

    perhaps putting him in the middle between Hellie and Ostrowski. Bogatyrev and Pavlov

    see a complex balance of powerful tsar, powerful councilors, and continual back and forth

    among them. The uninitiated reader is left to navigate among these viewpoints with no

    real guide, for the editor's brief remarks on historiography in the introduction focus


    meta-issues like Marxism and not on the disagreements among the authors in the volume.

    To make things worse, the reader has no indication that, for example, Ostrowski and

    Hellie present rather extreme formulations of views that also exist in less idiosyncratic

    forms. The same is true of the chapters on law and society. Hellie's views of the


    are hard to fit with Shaw's, and Kollmann offers a quite different conception of law and

    society than Hellie. How is the uninitiated reader to reconcile Hellie's statement that

    85 percent of the population were serfs with Kollmann's that large areas of Russia did not

    know serfdom?

    To add to the confusion, there is considerable overlap among the chapters. Shaw and

    Hellie cover much the same ground, even though their views sharply conflict. In


    cases the reverse is the problem: Khodarkovsky's account of non-Russians in the seven

    teenth century omits the Ukrainian Hetmanate, arguably the most important of Russia's

    acquisitions since Siberia in the 1580s. Davies tells the story of the Ukrainian Cossacks and

    their acceptance of Tsar Alexei's overlordship, but in the context of military history. Thus

    the story of the Hetmanate and Russia after 1667 is absent from the volume, yet it is surely as

    important as that of Siberia.

    The editor introduces her volume as "authoritative and reliable." The latter, some au

    thorial quirkiness aside, is mostly true, but an authoritative volume needs to be consistent,

    or if that cannot be achieved, it must explain the place of the various voices. As it is, the

    result is more a collection of (mostly excellent) articles than a book of reference.

    Paul Bushkovitch

    Yale University

    The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 2, Imperial Russia, 1689-1917. Ed. Dominic Lieven.

    Cambridge, Eng.: University of Cambridge Press, 2006. xxviii, 765 pp. Notes. Bibliog

    raphy. Chronology. Index. Plates. Tables. Maps. $185.00, hard bound.

    This book is the second of three that together aspire?as the jacket states?to present "a

    definitive new history of Russia from early Rus' to the [Soviet Union's] successor states."

    The volumes are edited by well-known specialists who have commissioned contributions

    from scholars primarily from the Anglophone world but also from continental Europe. Al

    though the promises of a book jacket should

    not be taken too literally, projects of this sort

    inevitably raise questions. What is the purpose and target readership of these volumes? Are

    they intended to be a reference work, consulted for their individual articles, or an actual

    history, contributing to contemporary scholarship? These aims are not mutually exclusive,

    but they do mark two poles of a continuum, each requiring a rather different kind of read

    ing. Indeed, the title of the series evokes the second pole, in noteworthy contrast to its

    predecessor, the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Russia and the Soviet Union (1982; rev. ed., 1994).

    In sum, how well does this series juggle encyclopedic coverage with historical narrative?

    The time frame for this middle volume is appropriate, if conventional: the reign of

    Peter the Great to the February Revolution of 1917. The editor, Dominic Lieven, who

    has written extensively on the political history of imperial Russia, has given primacy to

    This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 19:01:58 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • 230 Slavic Review

    topics he feels historians have neglected in recent decades, notably the history of empire,

    government, the economy, the military, and foreign policy; roughly half of its 31 articles

    are on these "unfashionable" but "traditional core topics" (3). Lieven's decision to focus

    this volume is fully legitimate, though his avowed neglect of more "fashionable" topics

    seems out of place, not just because some good scholarship is dismissed, but also because

    empire and political history are in fact extremely fashionable fields these days. Yet this

    decision also reflects what Lieven posits as the central tasks of this volume: to provide


    comprehensive overview of Russian history suitable for general reference and for students

    at the MA level. Comprehensiveness, he stresses, is more important than either diversity or

    coherence. In other words, Lieven seeks to "cover" the imperial period, thereby aspiring more to

    encyclopedia than history.

    Comprehensiveness is an elusive goal that a reviewer can easily challenge from her

    own subjective perspective. (David's Moon chapter on peasants and agriculture from 1689

    to 1917, while well informed and informative, for example, can

    hardly be considered

    comprehensive.) More important, this goal can mask underlying problems. This volume

    does in fact cover a large number of topics, in greater or lesser depth, just as it inevitably

    skips over others. It is divided into seven sections under the following headings (with the

    number of chapters indicated in parentheses): empire (3); culture, ideas, identities (4); non-Russian nationalities (3); Russian society, law, and economy (9); government (3);

    foreign policy and the armed forces (5); reform, war, and revolution (4). The problem is its lack of a conceptual or narrative frame. A comparison with volumes 1 and 3 in this

    series is instructive. Both have detailed introductions that set out major issues of historical

    development and interpretation. They further combine a chronological with a thematic

    structure, with sections and chapters examining particular periods, but also key issues

    and themes over time. Unfortunately, volume 2 does neither. Although Lieven does write

    the first chapter, promisingly entitled "Russia as Empire and Periphery," he seeks less to

    introduce the Russian empire (or this book) than to condense his own monograph on

    the topic. (Interested readers are recommended to go directly to his monograph: Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals, 2001.) The lack of a chronological or conceptual dimen

    sion means that the volume neglects specific historical periods and issues of periodization more broadly. The only monarch to get

    a chapter is Alexander II. While Larissa Zakharova

    provides a

    knowledgeable analysis of the reform era, this reader wondered whether Peter

    the Great merited a chapter. (Would not the debates about the historical significance of

    his reign be appropriate in a volume presupposing its significance?) The point is not to

    second-guess the editor but to note two consequences of his choices. First, the structure

    will be confusing to students who do not necessarily possess a strong understanding of

    historical periods or

    developments over time. Second, the individual chapters often con

    sider too vast a period and are sometimes prone to "covering" the material while neglect

    ing issues of historical controversy or interpretation. On