The goal of the current project is to provide a cultural history of the first Russian westernized elite since it emerged during the 'Petrine reforms' and up to 1825, when it became an independent social and cultural force and engaged into open confrontation with the regime. We investigate the mental outlook and subjective self of this Europeanized elite living in a non-European country as a distinct cultural formation and as a historical precedent to the current processes of globalization.
The changes initiated by Emperor Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century were arguably the most far-reaching attempt at enforced westernization until the Meiji restoration in Japan in 1868 and the Ataturk reforms in Turkey in the 1920s. The period of Russian history we are investigating was characterised by deep and rapid changes in all spheres of social and cultural life. However, it also definitely possessed a degree of inner cohesion and has always been perceived by scholars as an integral unity. The integrity and the dynamics of the so-called Russian long eighteenth century were shaped by its master plot - the emergence, growth, blossoming and eventual crisis of the educated Europeanized nobility. Our project is dedicated to understanding this historical metanarrative mainly through the lens of individual human beings and the ways they perceived themselves and their social and cultural environment.
Our research is interdisciplinary in nature, bringing together the methods of new cultural history, literary history, microhistory, and in particular of the history of emotions and of private life. By using these diverse perspectives and methods we will be able to reconstruct and to map out the subjective worldview of this social group, its shifting and fluid identities, multiple loyalties, and eclectic behavioural habits in their historical emergence and development. We intend to present a multidimensional image of this social group and thus to understand better how the first stage of westernization has shaped the structure of the self of an elite member - man or woman - of Russian society.
Our project brings together a network of scholars from different countries and different generations. It is based upon primary research in major archives in Russia, performed by the principal investigators themselves as well as by research consultants in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These prospective consultants are leading Russian scholars of the younger generation already possessing a significant record of international research, teaching and publishing. We also involved several invited scholars who declared significant interest in the project.