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Popular Orientalism. Representations of the Multiethnic Empire in the Russian Popular Press, 1870-1917

Ever since the conquest of Kazan in 1552 Russia was a multiethnic empire. But while cooptation of non-Slavic nobles ensured the integration into the ever growing empire as much as the negotiation of interethnic relations was a matter of everyday encounters on the imperial peripheries the lower strata living in the Slavic heartland had only seldom if any contact with other ethnic or religious groups. Besides army veterans returning to their villages it was the burgeoning popular press in the second half of the 19th century that provided literate peasants and other dwellers of the Russian provinces with information about the faraway regions and ethnic groups of the Russian empire.

This project explores the visual and narrative presentations of non-Slavic groups in the most popular magazine of the time, Niva (Grainfield), which combined colored prints and etchings with texts by acclaimed authors such as Tolstoy, Lermontov, Chekhov and Gorky. The tableaux of empire offered by Niva provides not only an insight into the publishing elite’s ideas about what their readers should learn about the empire, but also about the readers’ access to a larger multiethnic world. This turn to the popular horizons might provide an insight into the imagined communities of the Russian empire beyond the scientific and literary elites that have been discussed in regards to a purportedly distinctive approach to the ‘Orient’ in Imperial Russia in recent years (Layton, Tolz, Schimmelpennick an der Oye).