Canvas Empire: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Guidebook to a Lost Empire

This is a story unfolding - as of September 1, 2020 - on Twitter.

At its heart is a travel guide published in 1914 by the Karl Baedeker publishing house, called Russia with Teheran, Port Arthur, and Peking: A Handbook for Travellers.

Baedeker's Handbook has been acclaimed as the "best" guidebook to Russia ever written. (If you don't believe us, read the preamble.) It contains 88 itineraries through the space of the Russian Empire as it was in 1914 (with extensions to Peking and Teheran). Most itineraries describe rail travel, but a handful of routes are by steamship or on horseback. They pass through towns and villages, capitals and backwaters, providing notes on where to stay, where to eat, and how to spend one's time (and money). The Handbook is available in digital format (find it here).

This Guidebook is an interactive reinvention of it. If the Handbook is a series of itineraries, the Guidebook is a series of tweets. (And maps. And historical sketches. And all sorts of other goodies.)

Our purpose is to both draw your attention to the linear experience of space made possible by scripted travel itineraries and enable you to toss the script, leap from one location to another at will, and see the Russian Empire through the lens of sport or gardens or mountains or museums. 

As each tweet migrates here it receives a title and becomes an entry in the Guidebook. The entries populate the "tweetlines" that are at the heart of the project. We tend to enhance them with images and/or hypertext that you won't find in their corresponding tweets.

Best of all, we load them with tags. This means that if you grow tired of following an itinerary, you always have the option of clicking on a tag and exploring the set of locations that have that tag in common (koumiss cures! ruins! castles!). 

Your job is to click, drag, and zoom. You can't break anything, so don't be shy. In fact, if you don't play an active role, you will miss most of the good stuff. We have designed the Guidebook with the expectation that you will click on hypertext, play with colored dots, and pore over maps. We promise, you will be rewarded with all sorts of intriguing insights about what was common - and what was uncommon - across the Russian Empire.

To get started scroll down to the "Contents" and choose your path

Oh, and don't forget that you can always enter a placename or term in the search box in the upper right corner.

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