Canvas Empire: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Toponimika (the Imperiia Gazetteer)

[Skip the preamble - go straight to the gazetteer]

What is a gazetteer?

A gazetteer is a beautifully simple thing. It is a geographical dictionary: a list of placenames paired with some quantity of information about those placenames (for example, location information, topographic, demographic, economic, or cultural attributes).

The genre became popular in the eighteenth century in the context of the Enlightenment project of collecting and systematizing information (of almost any kind) about the known world. Though a few brave souls attempted to compile geographical dictionaries of the world, most early gazetteers contained thick-but-selective descriptions of the places located in a single state or region. Gazetteers were known to catalog religious sites, archaeological sites, market towns, populated places, post stations, rivers, gardens, mines, etc.

Why are gazetteers important?

Gazetteers are written evidence that places existed in the past. They are crucial to the work of recovering the economic, cultural, political, and geographical structures of historical space.

But here is the rub: while gazetteers provide evidence that places existed in the past, they do not - necessarily - tell us where those places were. Establishing the location of historical places can be a very tricky business. 

What is the Imperiia Gazetteer?

Our gazetteer is the foundation of the Imperiia project. Building it is an ongoing task: we are constantly adding to the list of places attested in our sources. Our goal is not to download modern gazetteer data for Russia and the states that were once part of the Romanov empire. Instead, we harvest placenames (toponyms) and attributes (pieces of information) from our cartographic, textual, and statistical sources. Our goals are 

  1. to compile a systematic, comprehensive list of all places of the Russian Empire
  2. to locate those places (assign coordinates)
  3. to incorporate time as an essential attribute of place, and
  4. to make our database available to anyone who wants to map Russian history.

Can you find it all here?

No, the full gazetteer is not available on this website.

Do we enjoy disappointing people? 

No, we do not. 

How do we sleep at night?

It isn't easy. However. In the "Contents" section, you can learn all about the kinds of places we are tracking: the rivers and canals and administrative boundaries and mosques and post stations and gardens, etc. 

Even better, we have extracted a subset of the gazetteer and made it available to you here. The subset - and it is really quite modest - includes 2 oceans, 10 seas, 7 bays, 19 gulfs, 11 lakes, rivers, islands, mountain ranges, capes, 49 provinces, 8 oblasts, 4 town governorships, 7 irregular administrative regions, 2 autonomous regions, and XXX settlements. We did not choose this subset at random: this is the full list of places mentioned in the Short Universal Geography published by Konstantin Arsen'ev in 1831. Nor did we simply reproduce Arsen'ev's text. Instead, we recreated his work as an interactive gazetteer so that you can get a sense of how elements of the empire's geography were connected. (You are welcome!)

Contents of this path: