Inventing Russian History: ‘Reflections on Russia’ – an unearthed essay by Yakov Ivanovič Bulgakov (1743-1809)
Title: Inventing Russian History: ‘Reflections on Russia’ – an unearthed essay by Yakov Ivanovič Bulgakov (1743-1809)
Author: VELIZHEV, Mikhail
Publisher: European University Institute
Series/Report no.: EUI MWP; 2008/37
This paper analyzes the anonymous article “Reflections on Russia, or Some Remarks on Russians Civil and Moral Status Until Peter I’s Reign” published in 1807 in the Moscow literary magazine “Messenger of Europe”. ‘Reflections’ can provide us with an excellent example of the circulation of ideas between Russia and Western Europe. It elaborated the mythology of Russian history in the seventeenth- and eighteenthcenturies idealizing Russian patriarchal antiquity and strongly criticizing Peter the Great’s reformist activity as an attempt “to transform Russians into foreigners” (as stated previously by J.-J. Rousseau). The anonymous writer argued that to be Russian meant to follow Russian “national” moral rules stamped in history. ‘Reflections on Russia’ are attributed here to the well-known diplomat and man of letters Jakov Ivanovič Bulgakov who might have written the piece in order to convince a part of the European, French-speaking (probably, Polish) aristocracy to change positively its views on Russia and its history in the 1790s. “Reflections” remained a manuscript until the Napoleonic wars when its rhetoric was claimed again as an instrument to win the sympathy of the European public towards Russia. The paper seeks to grasp the moment of the birth of Russian public spaces for debating the problems of Russian history. The publication of the ‘Reflections’ in 1807, through the mechanism of noble patronage, points out the moment of the construction of Russian public space when the common and most famous form of sociability (the salon) starts to be substituted by a new form – by the printed press.
Subject: History of Russian diplomacy in the eighteenth-century; transnational history; Russian nineteenth-century nationalism; public sphere in Russia; Russo-Polish relations; Russian historiography in the eighteenth-century; history of Russian journalism at the beginning of the nineteenth-century
Type of Access: openAccess
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