The Stories We Tell

Historical map of Crimea

Once Upon a Time in Crimea

You are looking at a fragment of a topographical map of the Crimean peninsula published in 1842 by the Military-Topographical Depot of the Russian Army. The story of this map begins in 1829, when the Russian government decided it needed a map—a really good map—of Crimea. Empress Catherine II had annexed the Khanate of Crimea in 1783, and for decades survey work proceeded in fits and starts—a farm over here, an orchard over there. Occasionally, a map of the new territory came out. But none was altogether satisfying to those who felt the need to understand the spatial logic of the empire's prized Black Sea possession. more...


Chernobyl|Chornobyl as the World Once Knew It

Chernobyl has existed since the 12th century. Khans, kings, grand princes, hetmen, tsars, and commissars have fought over the land. The area surrounding the town is thick with burial mounds - markers of the glories and tragedies of the past. But to see Chernobyl as a site of death and isolation is to see it from only one angle. more...


Plague Story: Medicine and Politics in 18th Century Russia

In 1980, historian John T. Alexander published a book about a pandemic that shook Europe to its foundations but has long since been forgotten. Bubonic Plague in Early Modern Russia: Public Health and Urban Disaster is required reading for anyone interested in the history of public health, medicine, and crisis management. It is an inherently spatial story as well. The plague moved over great distances, from its origin in Constantinople through Moldavia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and northward to Moscow. more...


A Princely Playboy in Crimea: Views from the Voyage of Anatolii Demidov

In 1837, Anatolii Nikitich Demidovorganized a scientific expedition to southern Russia and Crimea. He spared no expense, and enjoyed a handsome return on his investment. He published his own travel account in 1837. The voyage album came out in 1838, with 100 lithographs by Denis Auguste Marie Raffet. The full publication appeared two years later.These fifteen images are worth at least 15,000 words. The stories they tell are not of princes and delicious courtly scandal, however. Instead, they tell stories of nameless peasants and ramshackle landscapes and quiet moments in the shadows. more...


From Forest to Fleet

Russia is known now, and has always been known, as a continental power. An inland empire full of forests, rivers, and snow. But it was always moving toward the sea—the proving ground of empires. From Forest to Fleet explores the complex relationship between nature and the state by telling the story of how mature oaks were claimed and floated from forests in the heartland to shipyards on the empire's peripheries. It is a story of the power of statistics, the agency of nature, the scale of ambition, and the necessity of maps.


Beautiful Spaces

In Crimea, space mattered. Topography and aesthetics were major themes in nearly every travel account and government report composed between 1783 and 1917. Officials spent decades studying every cave, harbor, and alpine meadow. Land was the medium through which Crimean Tatars and Greeks negotiated their status within imperial society. And lucrative, ideologically productive spaces such as gardens and ruins shaped the way Russians conceptualized Crimea. Beautiful Spaces visualizes the spatial relations that made Crimea such a crucial site of imperial power.


A Country on Fire

Russia was covered in trees and built of wood. Fires were therefore both very common and very concerning. Between 1842 and 1864, the number of fires taking place annually in the European part of the empire doubled. This trend was out of line with population growth, and there was no demonstrable decline in living standards. Does the data bear out the Central Statistical Committee's claim that the spike can be attributed to nothing more than better record keeping and some simple facts of geography?


Imagined Towns

This is a study of the historical context and spatial structure of urban spaces as revealed in a unique collection of 422 town plans produced between 1770 and 1820. While the history of the imperial capitals—Moscow and St. Petersburg—has been studied in great detail, that of the empire's network of provincial and district towns has received less attention. The comprehensive collection of town plans published as part of the Complete Collection of Russian Law in the 1830s makes possible a comparative spatial analysis of the existing and imagined urban spaces of the empire. Based on our study of these plans we are developing a taxonomy that allows us to describe and record the features (botanical gardens, fortresses, churches, public buildings, thoroughfares, markets, bridges, etc.) and structures (distributions, densities, infrastructure) of Russia's real and imagined urban spaces.


An Empire On The Move

In 1824, the government published an updated description of the post road system. If you want to know the route between St. Petersburg and Astrakhan, including the number of post stations through which one would pass and how many days the trip would take, this is the source for you. By combining the data from the dorozhnik with the road locations extracted from the Geographic Atlas of the Russian Empire, we hope to visualize the social and geographic variables that shaped the ability of Russian subjects—from nobles to peasants—to move through the empire.