Russia's Own Orient
The Politics of Identity and Oriental Studies in the late Imperial and Early Soviet Periods
Oxford University Press 2011
New Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books in South Asian StudiesNew Books Network October 5, 2011 Dhara Anjaria
Everyone knows that the late nineteenth-century Russian Empire was the largest land based empire around, and that it was growing yet- at fifty-five square miles a day, no less. But how did Moscow and St. Petersberg go about making the bewildering array of peoples and ethnicities into subjects subject of a Russian empire?
Vera Tolz’s Russia’s Own Orient: The Politics of Identity and Oriental Studies in the late Imperial and Early Soviet Periods (Oxford University Press, 2011) examines ‘Orientalism’ as it evolved in the Russian metropole, developed by scholars and pedagogues from every corner of the far flung Russian Empire during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These turn-of-the-century Russian Orientologists (note, not ‘Orientalists’) saw themselves as ‘Empire-savers;’ promoting ethnic nationalism, they felt, would only strengthen ultimate allegiance to the Russian Empire. The result of their efforts was an emphatic celebration of the ‘non-European’ cultures that made up much of Central Asia and the Caucasus, whose peoples were encouraged to consolidate their ethnic and cultural identities even as they were supposed to be part of a larger Russian entity- a policy that persisted through the many changes of power at the metropole. And even as the Russian state continued to be shaped and influenced by peoples and cultures away from from its political centre, the Orientologists who did so much to integrate this diversity of Russians were themselves influenced by, and counted among their ranks of, people from all over Russia. Orientology in Russia was then a rejection of the East -West dichotomy, a view that early on anticipated and matched many of the cannons of modern postcolonial scholarship.