Map Project

Guidebook to a Lost Empire

Take a virtual excursion through late imperial Russia. Buy gingerbread. Climb Elbrus. Take a koumiss cure.

Join the Imperiia Project on a virtual excursion through the space and culture of the Russian Empire.

When journalist Harrison Salisbury first visited the Soviet Union in 1944, he tucked a copy of what he called “the last, best” guidebook into his gas mask bag. It (the book, not the gas mask) had been published, for the first time in English, in 1914 in Leipzig by the famous Baedeker publishing house. Russia: A Handbook for Travelers was supposed to guide well-heeled Europeans through the tsarist empire.

World war and revolution intervened, but the volume never lost its value. It remains a fascinating portal onto the world of late imperial Russia. 

Guidebook to a Lost Empire is an interactive reinvention of the Baedeker Handbook. The project is part of Imperiia director Kelly O'Neill's fall course (Hist1947), "The Imperial Map: Geographic Information in the Age of Empire," but it will run throughout the 2020-2021 academic year. The Guidebook presents a selection of itineraries, including a voyage down the Volga to the Caspian Sea, a train trip east to Lake Baikal, and tours of the Baltic coast, Crimea, the Caucasus, and the White Sea.

The action is unfolding on Twitter (follow the conversation using the hashtag #Russia1914) and on the Canvas Empire website, where you can explore maps, manipulate visualizations, and follow rabbit holes into some of the curious (and crucial) aspects of imperial history accessible through this remarkable source.

text excerpt with map

Director, Imperiia Project / Lecturer on History, Harvard University

Kelly O’Neill is a historian of the Russian Empire and an advocate of spatial history.