Works devoted to the history of archives have shown how investigation into practices of record keeping allows us to complicate the equation of knowledge with power and offer new interpretive possibilities to enrich the comparative study of empires. Though Russia’s expansion in Asia has long been a subject of historical inquiry, only recently have scholars begun to reflect on the entanglements between knowledge production and decision making under the rule of the Tsars. This project sets out to connect the history of Russia’s relations with Central Asia with the wider research context devoted to archival studies.
By drawing upon the conceptual approaches afforded by the recent archival turn, the given project analyses processes of knowledge production about Central Asia in early-modern Russia. Unlike most of the Central Asian depositories, which preserve limited evidence of the early- modern diplomatic encounters with Muscovy, archives in Russia offer ample opportunity for addressing this issue. Of particular interest are the holdings at the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RGADA) which houses the nearly entirely complete collection of the 17th-century Posol’skii Prikaz. The latter was the locus of all diplomatic exchanges of pre-Petrine Russia, and the institution where all diplomatic correspondence was collected and preserved.
At the turn of the 18th century, under Peter the Great the diplomatic collection of the Posol’skii Prikaz came to lose its erstwhile significance. The outcome of this reorganization was substantial, for it led to the disentanglement of previous expertise on Central Asia from the processes of decision making. Archival nescience also informed the ways in which the region came to be perceived among political circles and in the broader public opinion.
The project attempts to show how the diplomatic material produced in the 17th century underwent various custodial changes. Such changes manifested themselves in the ways in which practices of reordering went hand in hand with discussions about the historical value of the collection. To this end, the project will look at record-keeping activities within the Archive of Foreign Affairs in Moscow and explore how 17th-century diplomatic records were classified, inventoried, and retrieved over the course of the 18th and early 19th-centuries. The second objective is to reflect upon how relations between archival practices and knowledge production developed over time.
06/2022 – 05/2026
FWF – der Wissenschaftsfonds