Iacopo Adda Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva
On 4 December 1675 (14 December in the Gregorian calendar), gunshots were fired into the air from the fortress of Nerchinsk. A conspicuous group of Cossacks had been approaching the fortress and they immediately answered the salute. It was a signal for the arrival of a special traveller, who had been sent by Tsar Alexis I to lead a Russian embassy to the court of the Chinese Emperor. This special envoy was the Moldavian literary man Nicolae Milescu Spătaru, known in Russia as Nikolai Spatharii or Spafarii, who had taken up service as a diplomat of the Tsar a few years before.
Spătaru was not the first envoy whom Moscow had sent to Beijing to discuss the settlement of the border between Russia and China, but he was the first to take the internal Siberian route from Moscow to China. He was also the first to provide the tsarist court with a fairly detailed, though sometimes imprecise, description of the geography of the Russian imperial possessions east of the Urals, which was published as Journey through Siberia from Tobol’sk to Nerchinsk and the Chinese Border (see photo above). However, scientific exploration was not the primary goal of the expedition. As the Cossacks had only recently pushed down to the Amur valley, the border situation was unstable, but the Russians hoped to secure both a good strategic position on the Amur and a stable trade route to China. This would have meant reopening a sort of Russian-branded Silk Road, almost 300 years after the collapse of the one that had accompanied the pax mongolica between the 13th and 14th centuries. Continue reading “Memory Erasure of Trans-Imperial History in the City of Nerchinsk”→
In the last weekend of April, as part of the program for Professor Elena Smilianskaia, a visiting fellow at the University of Exeter, Dr Julia Leikin, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, organized a trip to the town of Rotherham in South Yorkshire, to find out more about Thomas Howard, the third Earl of Effingham (1746-1791). In this post, Julia Leikin recounts the surprising results of the trip.
Howard is, on the surface, an elusive figure. Despite his military and political stature, and a wide range of eccentricities, Howard did not leave behind a substantial archive for historians to exploit. He does have a short entry on Wikipedia, but there is no biography nor even an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to document his military career, his support of the American colonies in the American Revolution, and his short-lived governorship of Jamaica. Neither is he named among Eton College’s notable alumni.
But Thomas Howard is one of the notable figures who appears in my and Prof Smilianskaia’s forthcoming annotated translation of Rear-Admiral John Elphinstone’s Russian Faith, Honour & Courage Displayed in a Faithful Narrative of the Russian Expedition by Sea in the Years 1769 & 1770. Elphinstone offers a rare, first-hand account of the Russian voyage around the continent of Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean and offers a new perspective of his skirmishes with Ottoman forces, including the famous Battle of Çeşme (1770), alongside caustic descriptions of its participants. (This characterization does not extend to Thomas Howard, for whom Elphinstone was full of admiration.) Continue reading “Seeking Thomas Howard in Rotherham: local groundings for a global life”→
Russia has re-emerged as an imperial power during Vladimir Putin’s third term as president. In the Syrian civil war, the Russian military intervention turned the tides in favour of Bashar al-Assad. The Kremlin has incited separatism and war in Ukraine, supports Serbian nationalists and secessional Abkhazians, has refreshed traditional friendships with Bulgaria and Macedonia, and it has struck a deal with the Cypriote government that allows the Russian navy to use the island’s ports. In the Southern European debt crisis, Russia offered substantial financial aid to Greece. What links all these countries is that they all are traditionally home to large groups of Orthodox believers. Is this a coincidence?
In a recent article in Comparative Studies in Society and History, I argue that religious traditions and religion-based visions of world order often impinge on the making of foreign policy and on the nature of International Relations. I make that case using the history of the mutual cross-relationship of church and state in modern Russia and Ethiopia. From the late nineteenth century, both multi-ethnic empires with traditionally orthodox Christian ruling elites, developed a special relationship that outlived changing geopolitical and ideological constellations. Russians were fascinated with what they saw as exotic brothers in the faith; Ethiopians took advantage of Russian assistance and were inspired by various features of modern Russian statecraft. Religio-ethnic identities and institutionalised religion have grounded tenacious visions of global political order and cross-border identities. Orthodoxy was the spiritual basis of an early anti-Western type of globalisation, and was subsequently co-opted by states with radically secular ideologies as an effective means of mass mobilization and control. Continue reading “Orthodox Internationalism: Why religion matters in global history and International Relations”→