This essay focuses on the political and economic history of Romanov Russia between 1613 and 1918 to set the context for an in-depth examination of the rule of Catherine the Great (reigned 1762-1796). It is based on lectures written for the participants in Stanford Travel/Study’s program, Focus on St. Petersburg, May 1-10, 2015.
I begin by looking at the kingdoms that preceded Romanov rule, how Russia expanded, and why the Romanovs lost control in 1917. I then examine how the Romanovs gained wealth from agriculture, foreign trade, and territorial expansion. I next compare the development of Russian Siberia with that of the American West. Then I turn to Catherine – how she engineered a coup to take power, fended off threats to her illegitimate rule, and manipulated political factions. Next, I review how she collaborated with Prussia and Austria to partition Poland and aligned with Austria to defeat the Ottoman Empire and gain access to the Black Sea. Finally, I discuss Catherine’s controversial persona – her extraordinary written output, how she became Europe’s leading art collector, and whether she was an enlightened or autocratic ruler. I append a time line, bibliography, and description of sites that I visited in St. Petersburg.
Peter the Great, Russia under Catherine the Great, Russia under Nicholas II and Alexandra, Food Patterns of the Aristocracy and the PeasantrNative Inhabitants and Their Environments, Invading Nations Possessed Superior Technology, Native Cultures Were Obliterated and Native Peoples Were Marginalized, Fur Trapping and Trading, Exploration by Government Expeditions, Mining of Natural Mineral Resources, Agriculture and the Emigration of Settlers, Shifting European Alliances, Partition of Poland, Expansion to the Black Sea, Liberalizing Autocrat, Prolific Writer, Art Collector, Lonely Lover, St. Petersburg – Peter and Paul Cathedral, Church of the Savior on
Spilled Blood, and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Pushkin – Catherine I’s Palace, and Pavlovsk – Paul I’s Palace, St. Petersburg – Hermitage I, St. Petersburg – Tauride Palace, St. Petersburg – Marble Palace, and Peterhof – Catherine’s Pavilion, St. Petersburg – Hermitage II, St. Petersburg – National Public Library