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Engaging with the Empire: Colonial Uncertainties and the Imperial Rule in the North-West Caucasus, 1792-1870s

The project suggests a new reading of the history of the Romanov Empire’s imperialism, seeking to rethink the Russian imperial experience along the lines of the “imperial turn” in contemporary historiography. It investigates the history of the Russian imperial expansion in the western part of the North Caucasus from the final decade of the eighteenth century to the 1870s. The project argues that the Tsarist behavior in this borderland shared many commonalities with colonial practices of the overseas empires, from Orientalism to genocide. This territory was a place of entangled cross-cultural encounters in a colonial setting: Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking Cossack colonists, indigenous Adyghe people, career Russian militaries, and, after the abolition of serfdom in 1861, hundreds of thousands of peasants from central provinces. These groups found themselves in a new and unusual situation, meeting each other face-to-face for the first time. As a result, their sense of belonging and their relationship to the empire was constantly re-negotiated, while the roles of “dominant” and “subordinate,” “hegemony” and “subalternity,” colonials and colonized repeatedly turned upside down. Focusing on the Ukrainian-speaking Cossacks, Dr. Polianichev studies how the colonial communities adjusted to and made use of imperialism as well as what hierarchies of loyalties they produced.

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