The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire


Space and place are (hardly) new concepts.

They have always been essential to the work of writing history. In fact, historians - including Russian historians - spent much of the past century wrangling with the concepts (and very messy realities) of borders and borderlands, nations and empires, territories and landscapes.

But histories about even the most compelling spaces are not necessarily spatial histories.

Spatial histories are produced through collaboration. They use visualization as the primary language of narration and argumentation. And, most important, they apply the methods of spatial analysis to the study of the human past. They visualize spatial relations. They map concentrations and scarcity, distance and proximity, access and isolation. They do these things not in order to make pretty pictures, but in order to generate new knowledge and new insights. (Click here to read Richard White's straightforward and beautifully brief explanatory document.)

Doing spatial history means asking a different set of questions. It encourages us to define units of analysis beyond the nation state and city, and to do so at a range of scales. It allows us to assemble information in new configurations. To put qualitative and quantitative information in dialogue. To expose patterns and structures too deeply embedded in our sources to be retrieved by other historical methods.

Best of all, spatial history requires us to read deeply and critically, with a thirst for context, an eye for data, and the humanist's devotion to the search for meaning. 

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