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Showing posts from January 18, 2015

Russian America: The Great Alaskan Venture, 1741-1867

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I've just finished Hector Chevigny's history of the Russian American Company, Russian America: The Great Alaskan Adventure, 1741-1867.  This book is dense with geopolitical context and the cultural underpinnings of Russia's eastern expansion into the Pacific (go east, young man, go east!).  Written by a scholar, one might imagine such a tome to be dry with the friction of dates and Russian names.  It certainly is a dense history, with antecedents in the Mongol invasion of Russia in the 13th century, the expansion of Russia across 6,000 miles of Siberia, Sino-Russian trade, and the irresistible catastrophe of the fur trade (and Russia is far from alone in its culpability here).

But it is the story of individuals that compels this history, a cast of characters worthy of the great epics of literature and history. 

The entrepreneur and charlatan, Grigorii Shelikhov, with his wife and his business partner,  envisioned and launched a worthy competitor to The Hudson Bay Company…

I Khan See Russia From Here

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I stopped into Magus Books and bought all the books they had on the Inside Passage.  This one attracted me particularly, because Sitka is a primary objective for my trip north this summer.

Hector Chevigny begins his book, Russian America, with the invasion of Russia by the Mongols (Ghengis' grandson, Batu Khan) in 1237.  Chevigny describes him as "the world's foremost genius at murder."  For a time roughly equivalent to the American Revolution to now, the Mongols had their way with Russia, enjoying a tenth tribute (in lieu of terror), and furs comprised no small part of this levy.

As Mother Russia reemerged as her own, Muscovy found this ready-made taxation system convenient, and as over-hunting depleted the wealth (and amplified the value) of furs, Russia found it expedient to expand across what is now known as Siberia.   At one point a single sable pelt would buy a 50 acre farm.  Cossack ferocity... then, as now, a mixed blessing, helped bring the expanse of Siber…