Alisha Kirchoff: Is there a place for Big Data in Area Studies?

Alisha Kirchoff (Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at Indiana University-Bloomington; formerly REEEC Associate Director, 2010-2015), recently penned a post entitled “Is there a place for Big Data in Area Studies?”. The post, published on Indiana University-Bloomington’s Russian Studies Workshop Blog, offers a timely conversation on the use of big data as researchers face difficulties regarding data collection due to COVID-19.

Through her experience as a sociologist and law and society scholar, Kirchoff highlights the advantages and challenges that accompany the utilization of big data. More specifically, Kirchoff expounds on her own work on Russian notaries and the computation methods she employs as a case for the necessary reinforcement for the need to sustain investments in area studies research. We invite you to read this important rumination on the future and continuation of area studies research on Indiana University-Bloomington’s Russian Studies Workshop Blog.


Fall 2020 Select Courses in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Note: The courses listed below are not an exhaustive list of courses being offered on the REEE region. Please see the course explorer for additional classes.

All course information provided below is accurate as of August 17, 2020.

BCS 115: South Slavic Cultures
Instructor: Peter Wright
TR 2:00 PM – 3:20 PM Online

Exploration of South Slavic cultures in the historically rich and complex region sometimes referred to as “the Balkans,” focusing particularly on those groups found within the successor states of the former Yugoslavia. Critical look at the traditional view of the region as the crossroads or the bridge between East and West, and at the term Balkanization which has become a pejorative term used to characterize fragmented, and self-defeating social systems.

HIST 259: The Cold War
Instructor: Felix Cowen
MWF: 11:00 AM – 11:50 AM Altgeld Hall, Room 314

The course explores the history of the second half of the 20th century through the prism of the Cold War, a conflict between the two Super Powers- the USSR and USA — which brought the world to the threshold of mutually assured destruction.

HIST 260: Russian History from Early Times to the Present: Experience, Imagination, and Power
Instructor: Mark Steinberg
MWF: 11:00 AM – 11:50 AM Online

The history of “Russia” (Rus, Muscovy, Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation) from medieval times to the present. Although an introductory “survey course,” my aim is that we look beneath the surface of events to explore how individuals and groups experienced, interpreted, and made their own history. Most readings are primary texts, created at the time, so that we can listen to the past in its own voices as we try to understand, explain, and interpret. Three large (and related) interpretive questions are at the center of our exploration—experience (especially the experiences of everyday life); imagination (ways of thinking, feeling, seeing, and dreaming as expressed in ideas, ideologies, religion, and art); and power (rulers and their ideals as well as dissent and rebellion).

HIST 262: Zionism: A Global History
Instructor E. Avrutin and M. Ruiz

Examines the history of the Zionist movement. The course is designed for students with no prior knowledge of Jewish, European, or Middle Eastern history. The goal is to survey how Zionism emerged as a widespread political movement and, in the process, helped create an independent state for the Jewish people. In addition to familiarizing students with the backstory of a globally significant movement, this class will teach students historical interpretation skills.

HIST 353: European History 1918-1939
Instructor: Peter Fritzsche
TR 9:30 AM – 10:50 AM Online

This course examines the political and cultural environment of Europe from the demise of the continental empires after World War I to the dawn of the thousand-year Reich at the start of World War II. This Age of Extremes saw the rise of liberal democracies, the flourishing of new artistic movements, and the birth of new technologies such as film. At the same time, this period was also marked by the ascension of dictators, crises in colonial empires, and one of the largest economic crisis in history. Perhaps more famous (or infamous) than these events are the individuals we will cover, which includes the likes of Neville Chamberlain, Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. We will explore the period through a variety of sources, including speeches, contemporary films, and a novel concerned with an even greater threat: newts.

HIST 439: The Ottoman Empire
Instructor: Maria Todorova
TR 11:00 AM – 12:20 PM Online

This course introduces the history of one of the great imperial formations of the early modern and modern period, which had long-standing repercussions on the development of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. It covers the whole span of Ottoman history, and will pay special attention to some of the following problems: the political rise of the Ottoman state since the thirteenth century and how it became an empire, its social land administrative structure, the classical Ottoman economic system, Ottoman impact on the societies, politics, economies and cultures of Byzantium and the medieval Balkan states, the spread of Islam in Europe, the transformations of the Ottoman polity and society, aspects of what has been conventionally named as Ottoman decline, the Eastern question in international relations, the modernizing reforms of the nineteenth century, and the spread of nationalism as a prelude to the final demise of the supranational empire in the twentieth century.

HIST 502: Problems in Comparative History: Microhistory
Instructor: Maria Todorova
R 3:00 PM – 4:50 PM Online

What does it mean to change the scale of perspective in history? In science, observation through the telescope or through the microscope, in addition to the naked eye, are equally legitimate, as well as complementing. In history, there is still the tendency to prioritize certain approaches, to pronounce their scale of perspective as more “significant.” The goal of this graduate seminar is to serve as an introduction to a relatively new historical field – microhistory – which has been flourishing since the late 1970s. What paradigm did the first microhistorians challenge? What traditions did they step on? What new directions has microhistorical research taken in the past decades? How does it differ across chronological, geographical and social boundaries? The course consists of class discussions on readings, book reviews and a final historiographical or research paper. The readings draw on a variety of historical schools and aim at providing a solid introduction to the scholarly literature. They are clustered around a list of mandatory books (at Illini Bookstore), an extensive list of books on reserve, supplemented by articles and reviews that will be available during the course. We are going to read the work of the original Italian school (Carlo Ginzburg, Giovanni Levi, Guido Ruggiero, and other historians around Quaderni Storici), the antecedents to the microhistory in historical anthropology and the Annales school, the cultural approach in the work of early modernists (Natalie Zemon Davis and Robert Darnton), as well as examples of microhistorical research from different locales and from different historical eras: India, China, Latin America, the Atlantic, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Africa.

HIST 560: Problems in Russian History – Politics, Society, and Culture in Modern Russian and Soviet History, 1881-1939
Instructor: Mark Steinberg
R 1:00 PM – 2:50 PM Online

Major themes in the history and historiography of late imperial and early Soviet Russia and the USSR from 1880s through the 1930s. Topics to be explored include social and cultural experience, diversity and difference, power and transgression, cultural construction and interpretation, gender, empire, capitalism, socialism, and revolution. Central to the course are questions of historical methodology and theory as well as interpretation of the Russian past.

JS 320/CWL 320/ENGL 359/REL 320/YDSH 320: Lit Responses to the Holocaust
Instructor: R. Harris 

Course introduces a variety of Jewish literary responses to the Holocaust written during and after the Second World War (from 1939). The discussion of Holocaust memoirs, diaries, novels, short stories, poems, and other texts will focus on the unique contribution of literary works to our understanding of the Holocaust. In addition, the works and their authors will be situated in their Jewish cultural historical context. Taught in English translation. 

LAW 656: International Law
Instructor: Francis A. Boyle
MT 3:00-4:15 PM Online

The International Law course examines the variety of roles played by law and lawyer in ordering the relations between states and the nationals of states. The course utilizes a number of specialized contexts as a basis for exploring these roles. The contexts include, among others, the status of international law in domestic courts; the efficacy of judicial review by the International Court of Justice; the effort to subsume international economic relations under the fabric of bilateral and multilateral treaties; and the application — or misapplication — of law to political controversies that entail the threat of actual use of force. The course proceeds through an examination of problems selected to illuminate the operation of law within each of these contexts.

MUS 418/518: Regional Studies in Musicology: Eurasian Musical Excursions 
Instructor: Donna Buchanan 
MW 3:30 PM – 4:50 PM Online

Startling vocal polyphonies and shimmering string ensembles. Gymnastic dancing and chivalric epics. Mythologies of musical magic and medicine. Songs of valor, love, and anguish. This interdisciplinary course explores the legacy of traditional musical life in Armenia, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine—four contemporary Eurasian countries that are, on the one hand, nations with lengthy and complex political histories, and on the other, recently established post-Soviet states that are also the site of ongoing strife and ethnic conflict. Although the syllabus is organized by country, at least five factors will emerge as intercultural links across this complicated area: shared Christian heritage; a history of sharply delineated gender codes; a legacy of Russian and Soviet imperialism; the contemporary experience of postsocialism on the cusp of a rapidly changing Asia, Europe, and Middle East; and cultural repositories of indigenous beliefs whose folkloric, ritual, and musical manifestations intertwine fundamentally with the natural world. Course topics will survey the history, regional distribution, popularization, and social significance of vernacular musics in diverse media and venues—from the fields to the festival stage to flashmobs. Course materials will draw upon recordings, music videos, literary works, and films in addition to anthropological, area, and ethnomusicological studies. Whenever possible, students will engage first hand with representative instruments, vocal practices, and regional specialists. While the ability to hear, identify, and understand the significance of regional genres and their distinguishing features is a primary course objective, students from both within and outside the School of Music are encouraged to enroll; instructor expectations will be modified accordingly. Graduate students from outside Music who wish to register for MUS 518 should contact the instructor for permission.

REES 116/RUSS 115: Intro to Russian Culture
Instructor: Richard Tempest
MWF 3:00 PM – 3:50 PM Online

Introduction to the culture of Russia and the USSR. Course addresses two central themes. First, the very distinctiveness of Russian culture, and the functions of that notion within Russia and for outsiders; Second, Russia as a cultural space between East and West. We will explore Russian culture through the following, the language(s); foundational narratives of collective memory going back to the medieval times; the cultural impact of colonial subjugation both by and of peoples to the East, South, and West; Russian Orthodoxy’s connection with the political and cultural spheres; peak achievements in literature, music, architecture and visual arts. 

REES 200: Introduction to Russia and Eurasia
Instructor: Maureen Marshall

Survey of the societies and states formerly constituted as the Soviet Union. Interdisciplinary and team-taught. Combines lectures, discussions, and films covering the history, political science, economics, sociology, and culture of the area.

REES 495/550: Senior Seminar/Graduate Seminar in REEE Studies
Instructor: Benjamin Bamberger

Interdisciplinary seminar involving faculty in a number of disciplines. The course examines Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia and the methodologies of its study through questions of identities, cultural values, and change.

RUSS 322/522: Dostoevsky
Instructor: Harriet Murav
TR 2:00 PM – 3:20 PM Online

Dostoevsky’s Russia was beset by violent terrorism, political and economic uncertainty. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881), one of the world’s greatest authors, wrote Poor Folk, The Double, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, The Adolescent, A Writer’s Diary, and The Brothers Karamazov. He grappled with the major questions of the modern era in a boldly experimental style. Politics and religious and ethnic tension are explicit themes of his works. He was a political radical as a young man, sentenced to death for crimes against the government, but was reprieved. By the end of his life he shifted to the right politically. He suffered epileptic seizures during which he experienced mystical ecstasy. The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s last novel. If there is no God, is everything permitted?

*No Russian required. This course focuses on The Brothers Karamazov.

RUSS 511: Russian Literature 1800-1855
Instructor: Valeria Sobol
W 3:30 – 5:30 PM Online

Graduate-level study of major literary trends and developments in Russian literature from 1800-1855, from early romanticism to the emergence of a realist tradition, in criticism, drama, poetry, and prose. Prerequisite: Ability to read in Russian.

SLAV 117/CWL 117: Russ & Euro Science Fiction
Instructor: Richard Tempest
MWF 11:00 AM – 12:50 PM Online

Survey of the science fiction writing of Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe since 1750, with particular emphasis on the post-World War II period. The role of the Science Fiction tradition in the respective national cultures. The influence on Russian and East European Science Fiction of Anglo-American Science Fiction. All readings are in English.

SLAV 501/CWL 511/EALC 511/GER 511/TRST 501: Applied Literary Translation 1 
Instructor: Roman Ivashkiv
M 3:00 PM – 5:20 PM Online

Focuses on both the theory and the practice of literary translation, as well as the business aspect of how to negotiate a translation proposal through the US publishing market. Students will produce a completed translation of a short story or a selection of poems. Course Information: Same as CWL 511, EALC 511, GER 511, and SLAV 501. 4 graduate hours. No professional credit.

SLAV 576/CWL 576: Methods in Slavic Grad Study
Instructor: L. Kaganovsky
M 2:00 PM – 4:50 PM Online

Comparative, interdisciplinary methods and theoretical issues crucial to studies in Slavic literature, history, and culture. Theoretical bookshelf followed by specific case studies from Slavic.

TURK 270/ANTH 272/GLBL 272/SAME 272: Language and Culture in Turkey
Instructor: A. Ozcan and E. Saadah
TR 2:00 PM – 3:20 PM Online

As a country located at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, Turkey has always been under the spotlight. In this course, we will study the dynamic relationship between language and culture in Ottoman and modern Turkey through a timely analysis of its transition from a long-lasting empire to a young “secular” nation-state. We will examine the complexities of Turkish modernity from a holistic perspective to better comprehend how central Asian and Middle Eastern cultural influences, continuities, and transformations gave birth to modern Turkish language. The course should help you not only in developing an understanding of the Turkish language within a cultural framework, but also in gaining insight into Turkey’s history, politics, literature, and media. No former knowledge of Turkey or the Turkish language is required.

New Article Published in The Russian Review by Diane Koenker and Benjamin Bamberger

Diane Koenker (former REEEC Director) and Benjamin Bamberger (recent History Ph.D. and current REEEC staff member) have co-authored a new article, “Tips, Bonuses, or Bribes: The Immoral Economy of Service Work in the Soviet 1960s” in the April 2020 edition of The Russian Review. Benjamin also created the cover image for the issue.


From the issue announcement:

“The cover image includes a collection of photographed correspondence from the Rubinov Papers located at the Library of Congress. Anatolii Zakharovich Rubinov was a prominent Soviet journalist who worked for over three decades at Literaturnaia gazeta where he assiduously collected reader responses to the newspaper’s articles, particularly those dealing with everyday life and consumption.

The letters included here illustrate the variety of reader correspondence that responded to a provocative Literaturka article, encouraging tipping in the service sector, analyzed in our article by Diane P. Koenker and Benjamin Bamberger. The ubiquitous and varied art on the envelopes likewise reflects some of the main goals of Soviet socialism in the late 1960s, from increased resources for leisure activities, to modern travel, to more plentiful consumer goods.

Most letter writers included their names and addresses (obscured here for privacy), with some even requesting an official reply. The collage was produced by Benjamin Bamberger using Adobe InDesign to portray the letters as they
might have appeared on the editor’s desk.”

The article is available here with university login credentials.

Community Outreach: Russian Language and Culture Lessons at Leal Elementary

By Serenity Stanton Orengo

This spring, I had the opportunity to do twice-weekly Russian language and culture lessons at Leal Elementary School in Urbana as part of their after-school program. Each Tuesday and Thursday, I worked with a group of 10-12 students ranging in age from kindergarten through fifth grade. Because some of the students were very young and still learning to write in English, we focused on oral repetition for speaking. Each day had a theme, and we would cover vocabulary or phrases related to that theme, look at a slideshow with relevant pictures or watch a video, and then do a related craft. One day, for instance, was “St. Petersburg and Moscow Day.” We looked at pictures from the two cities, found them on a map, learned basic city-related vocabulary, and the students made onion-dome cityscapes out of construction paper. Other themes included Russian Holidays Day (learning months and listening to the Russian birthday song); Colors and Numbers Day; Russian Souvenir Day (students made their own matryoshka nesting dolls); and Cheburashka Day (we watched an episode of the Soviet cartoon). By far, everyone’s favorite theme was Fabergé Egg Day. After learning the history of the eggs, viewing pictures, and guessing their worth, students made their own Fabergé eggs out of construction paper which they decorated with stickers, gems, and markers. The students look forward to continuing these language and cultural lessons once they are able to return to school.



Serenity Stanton Orengo is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on medicine, women’s reproductive health, and transgressive motherhood in nineteenth-century Russian literature. 

Publicly Available Online Curriculum from REEEC

Looking for activities for children who are home from school? Learn about Russia, eastern Europe, and Eurasia! REEEC has publicly available curriculum on our region for students ranging from pre-school age to high school:…/k-…/curricula-and-lesson-plans/

To access each curriculum, please fill out a simple webform for our grant reporting records. Once you submit the form, you will gain access to the requested curriculum. For example, the link to access our Head Start curriculum (learning about a country and a hands-on craft) for pre-school students is…/headstart-curriculum-form/. For high school students, our “Rivers of Siberia and the Russian Far East” is a popular social studies/geography curriculum module:…/rivers-of-siberia-and-the-r…/.

Most NRCs (National Resources Centers) on campus have similarly available curriculum online. Please visit the curriculum and resource pages for the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, Center for Global Studies, and the European Union Center for more information.

If you have any questions, please contact Stephanie Porter, REEEC Outreach and Programming Coordinator, at

Academic Professional Profile: Glen Worthey

Glen-WortheyOriginally from California, Glen Worthey came to Urbana-Champaign after serving as the Digital Humanities Librarian in the Stanford University Library System from 1997 until 2019. Worthey has a background in Slavic Studies, having studied Russian literature as a graduate student at UC Berkeley. He is now the Associate Director for Research Support Services in the HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC), based here at UIUC. 

HathiTrust was developed as a reaction to the Google Books scanning project. What was originally started by a group of libraries—primarily those in the Big Ten—now has 150 contributing members. While not all of the HathiTrust holdings are Google scanned books, most are. HathiTrust fulfilled a reader library function, and the HathiTrust Research Center was created to fulfill a research function. The research center enables access to this large online library, particularly for text mining functions, and enables distant reading. Worthey explains that this type of access is not necessary for something like a close-reading of an individual poem, but for many types of research–including those looking at large amounts of documents or texts–it can be valuable. Although HathiTrust is not exclusively a digital humanities operation, this is perhaps the best way of characterizing it, according to Worthey: a large digital humanities center with national and international reach. 

Worthey decided to make the move from California because as both a librarian and digital humanist, HathiTrust and its Research Center had been on his radar since they were founded: “HTRC was announced and formally launched by John Unsworth at the Digital Humanities 2011 conference that I hosted at Stanford, so I sort of feel like I was a witness to its birth.” Worthey now works with a team of digital humanities specialists, developers, researchers, and graduate research assistants both at UIUC and remotely to support and advance digital research on the HathiTrust Digital Library collections. 

In speaking about his personal current research interests, Worthey says they are mostly passion projects, unrelated to his position at HathiTrust, although he often uses his own research as test projects to get acclimated to the technologies and tactics available at the Research Center. One of his current distant reading projects involves looking at Tolstoy’s pedagogical writings, and comparing that one volume with the other 89 volumes of Tolstoy’s collective works. Worthey’s previous graduate work focused on Russian children’s literature, as well as Soviet cultural history, Slavic linguistics, and translation. The trajectory of how Worthey came to study Russian is one shared by many in Slavic Studies. As a young undergrad, he learned Spanish—his first foreign language—and when he felt competent, he had a revelation that it was both possible and fun to learn a foreign language, and that he had an aptitude for it. He decided to try something a little harder, and having read Crime and Punishment in high school, he settled on Russian, and never found a reason to stop studying the language or culture. 

Worthey says what he loves most about Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia is that it’s complicated. The first time he went to the Soviet Union coincided almost exactly with Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech. A few years later, he returned to the Soviet Union as part of the Fulbright program (before it was called Fulbright), and at the time, he thought it would be interesting to be there because it was the thousand-year anniversary of the Christianization of Kievan Rus’. As it turned out, being in what is now Russia in 1989 ended up being much more interesting for other reasons. During both of those trips, Worthey says he witnessed the complicated combination of life being difficult, but there was also “all sorts of amazing goodness and depth.” While for Reagan the Soviet Union was an evil empire, for Worthey it was “mysterious and cool”: “I love studying it, so I feel like I have a right to have an opinion.”

What do Russians hope to gain from U.S. elections interference?

This is a re-post of an interview conducted by the Illinois News Bureau with REEEC faculty affiliate Richard Tempest (Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures). For the original interview, please see

Richard Tempest - professor, dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures

Carrie Busey Elementary School’s International Night

On March 5, Stephanie Porter (REEEC Outreach and Programming Coordinator) participated in Carrie Busey Elementary School’s International Night, along with the other area studies centers’ outreach staff. At the REEEC table, students made paper matryoshka dolls and played with the dolls from REEEC’s collection. They especially enjoyed taking the dolls apart and finding the tiny doll inside. In addition to the REEEC table, the students and their parents (some wearing the traditional clothing from their countries of origin) enjoyed visiting other tables representing different countries, making crafts, and sampling foods. There was even a performance of dances and music from around the world. Everyone had a lot of fun and is looking forward to next year’s International Night!

Russian Students at Irkutsk State University are inspired by U.S. FSP Collaboration

In May 2019, a select cohort of eight students from Irkutsk State University (ISU) earned a micro-credential in Financial Literacy, a type of electronic academic “badge” issued by the University of Illinois System. The micro-credential was part of a workshop facilitated by Dr. Nancy J. Scannell, Associate Professor of Business Administration, visiting Fulbright Specialist to ISU, and a REEEC regional faculty associate. Dr. Scannell was impressed by the ISU students’ strong command of the English language and effortless adaptability to new pedagogical approaches.

The topics discussed throughout the week-long workshop included: building emergency funds, financial fraud, the role of diversification, the business of education, risk-return trade-offs, and international tourism. The active participation of the ISU students proved a hallmark of the proceedings.

According to Dr. Scannell, among the most satisfying outcomes for an educator, in the aftermath of delivering a business workshop, is to witness the emergence of commercial start-ups led by student entrepreneurs. Two of her workshop graduates teamed up to deliver tourism services in their region and established the company, “Friendly Driver”. Irina Novichkova  and Danil Suslov offer a range of flexible options for a visitor to Irkutsk, Russia: airport transfers, assistance with country registration, translation services, logistical planning, and introductions to the sights and sounds of the area through day-long or week-long excursions, including adventures to the world-famous Lake Baikal.

After the workshop Dr. Scannell noted, “I feel truly honored to have been invited to serve as a Fulbright Specialist, affording me a special opportunity to collaborate with ISU students and colleagues, and am genuinely thankful to all persons and entities party to this fantastic and consequential FSP Russia collaboration.”

Noontime Scholars Lecture with Sean Pollock: “Who Spoke for Russia’s Muslims? Turkic Letters and Russian Empire in the Caucasus between the 17th and 20th Centuries”

By Felix Cowan

On 8 October 2019, REEEC welcomed Sean Pollock, Associate Professor of History at Wright State University, to give a Noontime Scholars talk titled “Who Spoke for Russia’s Muslims? Turkic Letters and Russian Empire in the Caucasus between the 17th and 20th Centuries.” Dr. Pollock, an expert on Russian empire in the Caucasus, spoke at length about the expansion of the Russian Empire into the Caucasus and about historians’ use of sources when studying Russian empire.

Dr. Pollock’s talk was based on his work with 25 Turkic-language letters generated in the North Caucasus over several centuries, a small portion of what he noted was a collection of thousands of these letters preserved in local and regional archives. These documents, he argued, can reveal much that historians are yet to realize about the complex nature of Russian imperial rule and the dynamic relationships between colonized imperial subjects and the colonizing imperial state.

Previously, Dr. Pollock noted, historians have tended to think of this relationship as a deep divide between Russian Muslims and tsarist officials, separated by barriers of language and understanding. According to Dr. Pollock, scholars have not always been adequately critical of their sources or have failed to use the full extent of documents held in local archives and written in indigenous languages, relying instead on documents written in Russian and produced by tsarist institutions. This has at times led to a focus on empire that emphasizes the Russian side of the relationship and understates the importance and the agency of indigenous populations in Russian imperial regions.

But the letters Dr. Pollock examines show this relationship in a different light. Russian Muslims could and did interact with the state in indigenous Turkic languages rather than in Russian, and spoke to tsarist officials who may have also been native Turkic speakers employed by the state. Where documents were translated into Russian, rather than the distortions and omissions other scholars have noted, Dr. Pollock argues they tended towards accurate reproductions, edited for concision but not to change the meaning of what was written. Such a dialogic relationship, adapted to local circumstances, helps explain the longevity of Russian empire in the region.

In these letters, Russia’s Muslims spoke for themselves in dialogue with Russian empire. They pursued friendly relations with the tsars and their intermediaries, offering service in exchange for Russian intervention on their behalf, and built a relationship that could promote the interests of local Muslim populations as well as Russian imperial expansion and rule. Loyalty and service facilitating the needs of empire were to be rewarded with Russian power attending to Muslims’ own needs and goals. In this dynamic, Muslims in the Caucasus recognized their status as clients of Russian patrons and acknowledged the suzerainty of Russian rulers, but expected protection and “membership in the tsarist family” in return. Russian empire was a resource for local Muslims to exploit by establishing mutually-beneficial relationships that could serve the needs of both the empire and groups of indigenous Muslim subjects. This was another way that Russia “built empire on the cheap,” compensating for a lack of resources or understaffing in imperial territories. Reciprocal relationships with local Muslims helped solidify imperial rule in peripheral regions like the Caucasus.

In the discussion following Dr. Pollock’s talk, he elaborated on certain key points. Here, Dr. Pollock once again challenged established ideas about the nature of Russian empire in the periphery. He claimed Russia’s Muslims understood this relationship as an unequal one, situating themselves as clients of Russian patrons rather than approaching them as equals. And by arguing that these letters, though filtered through literate scribes and intermediaries, were relatively authentic expressions of Caucasian Muslims’ thoughts and attitudes, Dr. Pollock suggested they may counteract postcolonial frameworks that see written sources as inherently problematic for the study of empire because of their bias towards literate administrators rather than local voices. Finally, he reiterated that his study is based on a close reading of just 25 letters out of more than 3,000 available in these repositories and encouraged the audience to make use of rich archival holdings and work by local scholars in locations like Makhachkala.

This was a thought-provoking and intellectually-challenging lecture and discussion. Dr. Pollock has uncovered an exciting, understudied side to Russian empire in the Caucasus. And his suggestions that these sources point to a new understanding of the nature of tsarist rule in the periphery more generally is an encouraging line of research for future studies of Russian empire paying close attention to how and why sources were created and making use of local sources preserved in regional archives.

Felix Cowan is a doctoral candidate in Russian history at the University of Illinois.