I became interested in Russia at the height of the Cold War and went to college thinking I would study politics and Russian and become a diplomat. But inspiring professor in Russian history and literature at Middlebury College, plus a phenomenal junior semester at Leningrad State University, capt...
I became interested in Russia at the height of the Cold War and went to college thinking I would study politics and Russian and become a diplomat. But inspiring professor in Russian history and literature at Middlebury College, plus a phenomenal junior semester at Leningrad State University, captured me for the study of history. In graduate school at Harvard, I initially focused on the intellectual history of nineteenth-century Russia, but quickly found myself drawn to the early modern period, where I have focused my work ever since. I came to Stanford in 1982 almost immediately upon receiving my Ph.D.
Throughout my career I have been broadly interested in how politics worked in early modern Russian autocracy, that is, from the rise of Moscow from the fourteenth century through the eighteenth. Theoretically I am interested in how early modern states, particularly empires, tried to create, at best, social cohesion and, at least, stability, by ritual, ideology, law and the measured use of violence. My work has focused on the structures of power at the Kremlin court and the influence of kinship and marriage in politics, on social values from Muscovy to the Enlightenment, and on legal culture. I have had an abiding interest in the roles of women in political ideology and practice. Through the prisms of criminal law and disputes over honor, I have explored the practice of the law of an autocracy, showing how people used the law, how judges and other officials played roles in the system, how the law was written and interpreted.
My current work goes in several directions. One turn is to the visual -- I am interested in the production and use in Russia of icons, frescos and miniatures as a medium for political communication and an avenue into exploring cultural change. I am also intrigued to study images of Russia produced by foreign engravers in early print publications of travel accounts. The tension in these images between stock tropes of the engraver's trade and eye-witness information, deserves analysis. Another current theme is empire: I am (in 2014) completing a synthetic history on "The Russian Empire 1450-1801." Finally, a long term project reflects a long-standing interest in the genre of history writing in Muscovy; I plan to study works of history in the seventeenth century as loci of political debate and discussion.