The University of Wisconsin Press

Russian & Slavic Studies / History / Literature

From the Shadow of Empire
Defining the Russian Nation through Cultural Mythology, 1855–1870
Olga Maiorova

“Spanning a wide spectrum of competing visions of what it means to be ‘Russian,’ From the Shadow of Empire represents nationalist ideology as a dynamic interrelation of concurrent positions, intense struggles, and temporary alliances shifting over time.”
—Irina Paperno, University of California, Berkeley

As nationalism spread across nineteenth-century Europe, Russia's national identity remained murky: there was no clear distinction between the Russian nation and the expanding multiethnic empire that called itself “Russian.” When Tsar Alexander II’s Great Reforms (1855–1870s) allowed some freedom for public debate, Russian nationalist intellectuals embarked on a major project—which they undertook in daily press, popular historiography, and works of fiction—of finding the Russian nation within the empire and rendering the empire in nationalistic terms.

From the Shadow of Empire traces how these nationalist writers refashioned key historical myths— the legend of the nation’s spiritual birth, the tale of the founding of Russia, stories of Cossack independence—to portray the Russian people as the ruling nationality, whose character would define the empire. In an effort to press the government to alter its traditional imperial policies, writers from across the political spectrum made the cult of military victories into the dominant form of national myth-making: in the absence of popular political participation, wars allowed for the people’s involvement in public affairs and conjured an image of unity between ruler and nation. With their increasing reliance on the war metaphor, Reform-era thinkers prepared the ground for the brutal Russification policies of the late nineteenth century and contributed to the aggressive character of twentieth-century Russian nationalism.

Olga Maiorova is associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Michigan.



“Essential reading for anyone seriously interested in nineteenth-century Russia and in nation-building—in Russia and elsewhere. . . . A major original contribution to a theme of the construction of national identity, as well as the field of cultural history.”
—Seymour Becker, Rutgers University

“Gives a unique sense of the psyche of the individual writers and general intellectual climate in Russia during the period of Great Reforms.”
—Richard Wortman, Columbia University

“For anyone interested in Russian culture and history in the nineteenth century, this book is required (and enjoyable) reading. . . . This work is required reading for anyone interested in the vicissitudes of Russian nationalism, past, present, and future.”
—Theodore R. Weeks, Soviet and Post-Soviet Review

“This book is a brisk and engaging read: scholarly without being pedantic, accessible but not simplistic. . . . From the Shadow of Empire is a richly evidenced, informative, and analytically keen study that will certainly inspire further research on this important topic. It is highly recommended for any scholar or general reader interested in ideological aspects of Russian culture.”
—Edyta Bojanowska, Russian Review

“A rich, lucidly written book vital for anybody interested in the Russian empire-nation problem and nation building in general. . . . Maiorova provides a compelling new historical framework for the future study of Russian literature and culture as of the nineteenth century.”
—Susan Layton, Slavic Review

“Ce livre est un ouvrage important. Non seulement du fait de la lucidité de l’analyse qu’il développe, mais aussi, et surtout, parce que son propos jette une ombre sur le discours politique russe contemporain. . . . Cette étude pertinente . . . s’adresse autant au spécialiste qu’au grand public intéressé par l’histoire de la Russie.”
—Andreas Schönle, Revue des études Slaves

“Cet ouvrage apporte des lumières neuves sur la naissance du nationalisme russe. . . . L’ouvrage très instructif d’Olga Maiorova non seulement éclaire sur les débats cruciaux des années des Grandes Réformes concernant la nature de l’État russe, mais aide aussi, indirectement, à réfléchir sur les problèmes d’aujourd’hui.”
—Georges Nivat, Cahiers du monde russe

“On the basis of the innovative reading of a wide range of literary works, journalistic treatises, and writing by historians, Olga Maiorova tells a fascinating story. . . . The study convincingly argues that the Crimean war triggered not only major political transformations in Russia, but also significant changes in the understanding of Russianness, which, in fact, are still exerting their influence today.”
—Vera Tolz, Canadian Slavonic Papers

“This is one of those rare books that takes a seemingly unpromising topic and brings it to life. . . . One can only be grateful that Maiorova succeeded in producing so rich a book. Everyone who thinks about nineteenth-century Russia will find it both a pleasure and a revelation.”
—Nadieszda Kizenko, Slavonic and East European Review

“Maiorova does not gloss over her protagonists’ contradictory or shifting positions, but rather teases out red threads to highlight common concerns and nation-building strategies. . . . While Maiorova’s argument about the compensatory nature of Russian national identity is sure to provoke debate among historians and scholars of nationalism, this volume’s compelling organization and fluid prose make it not just an essential, but also an accessible work for readers interested in Russian culture and history.”
—Anne Dwyer, Slavic and East European Journal

“Maiorova successfully frames complex concepts and issues in a clear, readily understandable style. Her thoroughness and her critical abilities are most impressive, and her book would be valuable not only for undergraduate and graduate students, but for the general reader as well.”
—Janet Tucker, European Legacy

A Mellon Slavic Studies Initiative Book
This book is part of a five-year initiative for publishing first books by scholars in the fields of Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

From the Shadow of Empire

August 2010

LC: 2009046768 DK
248 pp.   6 x 9   
10 b/w illus.

Book icon
Paper $29.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-23594-9
Shopping cart ADD TO CART
  Review cart contents
Secure checkout

Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated 03/02/2015

© 2012, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System