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Document Type

Article

Abstract

The eighteenth century was a markedly volatile period in the history of Russia, seeing its development and international emergence as a European-styled empire. In narratives of this time of change, historians tend to view the century in two parts: the reign of Peter I (r. 1682-1725), who purportedly spurned Russia into modernization, and Catherine II (r. 1762-96), the German princess-turned-empress who presided over the culmination of Russia’s transformation. Yet, dismissal of nearly forty years of Russia’s history does a severe disservice to the sovereigns and governments that molded and crafted the process of change. Specifically, Empress Anna Ivanovna (r. 1730-40) remains one of the most overlooked and underappreciated sovereigns of the interim between the “Greats”.

Understanding Russia’s change in the eighteenth century is to understand the decade-long tenure of the Empress Anna and the ways she mediated the space between past and future. My paper that Anna successfully navigated a course between competing images of Russia: the aristocratic and Orthodox-dominated domain of the old Muscovite tsars and the vibrant, Westernized empire that Peter the Great envisioned. She accomplished this by providing substance for the reforms of Peter the Great, namely by creating revenue to cover the costs of his projects and completing his transformation of St. Petersburg, the Window to the West. Further, she created new institutions of government to cultivate Russian autocracy and reaffirmed the status of the sovereign as autocrat, centering the court around the sovereign and using her personal lovers, or “favorites,” as an extension of her executive arm. The culture she shaped created the circumstances that enabled the successful reigns of the women who followed her to the throne, Elizabeth and Catherine II. Anna’s reign in Russia provides a concrete example not of starting or ending a change, but rather what it means to refine and craft the process of change.

Through the example of Anna, historians can learn much about the role of continuity from the past in building a new future; change is rarely a climax and always a process. Peter I’s clear break with the past led to the retraction of his reforms by his successors, yet Anna found a way to move Russia forward while preserving elements of its past. Thus, my paper argues that Anna became Russia’s Empress-Navigator, striking a chord between the Tsarist past and the Imperial future that enabled Russia’s development into a world power.

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