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10 September 2010 @ 09:17 am
Catherine the Great  
Catherine the Great by Simon Dixon is another fruit of the great parental book-shelf raid. I'm not quite sure why I picked up a book on her, as opposed to Frederick the Great (or even both of them). It turns out that this book isn't really a biography but more an examination of Catherine's methods of rulership.

My knowledge of Russian history is virtually zero, so I kept getting distracted by questions like "who was Elizabeth?" (that's when I wasn't accidentally assuming the book was referring to Elizabeth I of England). There does seem to have been a fascinating sequence of female rulers in 18th century Russia and even more fascinating is Catherine's rise to power as a foreigner, first through a political coup and then by assassinating the previous ruler (who happened to be her husband). I also got side-tracked by the Russian serfdom system. This was only briefly touched upon in the book, mostly in relation to Catherine's apparent powerlessness to do anything about it, but I'd be interested to see an analysis of why such a system persisted in Russia long after it had become out-moded elsewhere in Europe. I couldn't help wondering if the serf-owning system contributed to the very low levels of literacy and if they, in turn, contributed to the obvious difficulties Catherine had in finding competent, or even adult, people to appoint as local government officials and the like.

I'm not expert in history but this seemed like a pretty solid examination of Catherine and her rule. It covered various themes such as Catherine's use of iconography, her engagement with the Englightment, political culture, her relationship with the nobility and so on and so forth. I felt handicapped by my general ignorance of Russian history but not to the extent that I couldn't follow the arguments or was alienated from the subject matter.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/18604.html.
 
 
 
bunn: No whiningbunn on September 10th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
Why such a system persisted in Russia long after it had become out-moded elsewhere in Europe.
That's an interestingly-large question. I looked at it and thought, I'm sure I've read/written something about that, I'll have to have a think.

So, I had a think, and I've come to the conclusion that I know bugger-all about the 'why's'. Intermittently I have read a bunch of stuff about feudalism, bastard feudalism etc in Europe, and the 'everybody knows' thing about Russia is that what collapses pretty fast in the West under the impact of Black Death, economic change and technology, hangs about in Russia for yonks. But why..?

Actually, now I think about it in the context of stuff I've read later, I wonder if it was ever really quite the same sort of system/society/economy anyway. I get the impression that agricultural economies are now thought to be a hell of a lot older and less changeable than we once thought...

Here ends an uninformed, yet strangely lengthy comment.
louisedennislouisedennis on September 11th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Why such a system persisted in Russia long after it had become out-moded elsewhere in Europe.
I thought that any explanation beyond "chance" which I suppose shouldn't be discounted entirely would have to focus on both the size and comparative lack of population density in Russia. There doesn't seem to have been much of an Urban middle-class to speak of.
bunnbunn on September 11th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Why such a system persisted in Russia long after it had become out-moded elsewhere in Europe.
I understand that the whole system is much less urban and much more.. well feudal.

But that pushes the 'why' back one step : why does Russia not have more towns, more trade, more cities? Why doesn't the population grow? Why doesn't it develop more of a trading/manufacturing economy? Why IS there no middle class? Buggered if I know. :-/
louisedennislouisedennis on September 13th, 2010 09:57 am (UTC)
Re: Why such a system persisted in Russia long after it had become out-moded elsewhere in Europe.
I don't know, how productive is Russian agriculturally? I mean it's pretty cold which isn't generally thought to be good for crops. Maybe they had as much population density as the climate, terrain and 17th century farming methods could support?