The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Fields on Fire

Project Team: Davit Gasparyan; Thomas Schaffner; Kelly O'Neill, Paul Vădan
Publication Date: 29 February 2024

What It Is

The Fields on Fire dataset describes the frequency and impact (in terms of the quantity and cost of burned households) of 66,112 fires in 49 European provinces of the Russian Empire from 1860 through 1864. A subset of the data addresses incidents of arson. The data was sourced from an official publication by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and mapped according to historical spatial data extracted from the Geographical Atlas of European Russia (with boundaries adapted to reflect the 1860s). The package includes province-level data (polygons) and town-level data (points).

Why It Matters

The 1860s were a volatile time in the Russian Empire. In the wake of a catastrophic loss in the Crimean War and subsequent signing of the Treaty of Paris (1856), Tsar Alexander II and his government were forced to reckon with an array of forces threatening to pull apart the foundation of imperial society. The emancipation of the serfs (1861) was an event of world significance and certainly the single most important result of the great reckoning. But it was no panacea and marked the beginning of a decade of reform and reaction. Peasant unrest was rife, though it rose and fell, until the very last days of the empire. The regime associated fire, particularly arson, very closely with peasant unrest and kept close tabs on each event, taking advantage of the rise of statistical surveying and the bureaucratic expansion underway since the 1840s. The agency that compiled and published this data, the Central Statistical Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was established in 1852. It collected data at the provincial, district, and town level.

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