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The Orthodox Nationalist: New Directions in Imperial Russian Historiography – TON 081121

Dr Matthew Raphael Johnson looks at modern attempts to correct false ideas about Russian history.

In the first two thirds of the 20th century, historical work in English on Imperial Russia was almost uniformly hostile. The Russian monarchy was depicted as bureaucratic and despotic, with those two terms essentially treated as synonyms. The church was perceived as “enslaved” to the state and slavish in its support of the royal house. However, since at least the end of the Cold War, a new generation of historians has challenged these cliche- ridden theories about Russia.

In a surprising turn of events, the historical establishment, influenced by books such as Edward Said's (1978) Orientalism, are changing the way Old Russia is understood. Historical writing on Russia, especially after World War II, used childish and clichéd arguments to paint Russia in the worst possible light. Few recall that the USSR was seen as the wave of the future by far too many. Lenin and Stalin were the “liberators of mankind.”

A few examples are Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Andre Malraux, Andre Gide, Pablo Picasso, Dorothy Parker, George Grosz, Lincoln Steffens, John Dos Passos, Bertolt Brecht, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. They created the Soviet myth of universal progress. Today, writers such as myself, Vladimir Moss, PW Rogers, J. Bradley, Vera Tolz and many others are chipping away at the Old Bolshevik idea of Old Russia.

So much of what had been taken for granted is now being reopened. Vladimir Putin's nationalism, coupled with his undeniable economic success (and continuing popularity) is forcing historians to revisit these formerly verboten topics from the Cold War era. History is always political, and the former boundaries of discourse are in the process of being altered radically.

Presented by Dr Matthew Raphael Johnson

The Orthodox Nationalist: New Directions on Imperial Russian Historiography – TON 081121


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