In This Review

Russian Orientalism: Asia in the Russian Mind from Peter the Great to the Emigration
Russian Orientalism: Asia in the Russian Mind from Peter the Great to the Emigration
By David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye
Yale University Press, 2010, 312 pp.

The author's focus is not on the Russian mind writ large or even the mind of the ruling elite but rather on that of the generations of academic Orientalists from the eighteenth century on. Peter, Catherine, their nineteenth-century successors, and members of the court paid close attention to these scholars when it suited their foreign policy ambitions or cultural fads. And important Russian writers and composers, from Aleksandr Borodin to Leo Tolstoy, played with Asian themes. From Peter's time to the Bolshevik Revolution, for Russian intellectuals, "the Orient" signified the South -- Islam, the Turks, and the Persians. Russian interest in East Asia began with the Mongol conquerors in the thirteenth century, focused more in the eighteenth century on Catherine's taste for chinoiserie in her summer palaces, and then became more serious in the late nineteenth century as Russia embarked on its last stage of imperial expansion. Throughout, the dialogue had much more to do with the place and function of the Near East in Russia's sense of identity. The book's major contribution is an in-depth three-century study of the emergence and evolution of Orientalism within the Russian academy.