“The Duty of Perfect Obedience": Performing Poddanstvo in Early Modern Russian Oaths of Allegiance

Friday, February 8, 2019 - 4:30pm to 5:45pm

CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Room S450

The essay addresses the history of the concept of poddanstvo and the ways the Russian government deployed the language of subjecthood in making political claims over individuals and groups located on its territory.  Specifically, it examines seventeenth- and eighteenth-century legislation regulating oaths of allegiance on the accession of a new monarch.  The paper argues that the Russian government used oaths of allegiance to facilitate the political subjectification of Russia’s diverse peoples, an aspect of state-building to which historians of Russia have paid surprisingly little attention.  A key device in the armamentarium of Russian subjecthood, the oath of allegiance was both political theater and a mechanism of social control.  Its main purpose was to legitimize the monarch’s authority in general and over subjects in particular.  Its didactic purpose was to teach subjects, in Petrine words, “the duty of perfect obedience” to the monarch.  In enacting in oath-taking ceremonies, people of diverse backgrounds became participants in their own political subjectification.  And in performing their ascribed political identity, they constituted Russia as an empire of duty-bound subjects, not rights-bearing citizens, an act of enduring consequence.

Dr. Pollock earned his Ph.D in History from Harvard University (2006), where he received several teaching awards, including the Thomas T. Hoopes Prize for senior thesis advising and the Stephen Botein Prize for teaching in History and Literature.  He has also taught at Yale University and the University of New Haven, and was Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies at Columbia University (2007).  Since joining the Department of History in 2008, he has received recognition for teaching excellence in General Education and Writing across the Curriculum.  He was the 2013 Phi Alpha Theta Outstanding Faculty Member (Department of History) and received of the College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Teaching Award for 2015.  In addition to teaching in traditional classroom settings, he has designed and successfully taught several asynchronous and synchronous online courses, and has advanced the university's mission to engage in meaningful community service by teaching service‐learning courses in partnership with Dayton's Thurgood Marshall High School.  He chaired the University Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and the Faculty Senate Taskforce on Distance Education, served as the inaugural Faculty Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (2015-18), and represented the College of Liberal Arts on Faculty Senate (2012-2018).  His current research focuses on the political subjectification of Russia's Caucasian frontier in the eighteenth century. 


Sean Pollock, Independent Scholar

Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

For more information, please call 617-495-4037.