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Imperial Russia on the Edge : A Microhistory of Collapse Smith, Alison K.


For historians of Tsarist Russia, it is difficult to escape a narrative trap of writing toward a defined end point: the revolutions of 1917. Microhistory offers an alternative way of writing about the last decades of the Russian Empire and also makes clear the ways that a narrative of collapse is hard to escape. Gatchina, a palace town that had become a bedroom community for St. Petersburg, was in many ways a microcosm of the larger empire. Its last decade and a half of imperial rule could be written as one with no hint of a coming revolution, but instead as one of suburbanization, of the growth of a middle class, of, for lack of a better world, normalcy. Knowing the end of the story in advance, however, means that even that normalcy seems a mirage, a veneer covering something rotten, and anything outside it—particularly a rise in suicides—seems to hint at revolutionary forces lurking, waiting to destroy the tsarist state from within.

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