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Transfer and Adaptation of Western European Social, Economic, and Political Ideas and Practices in Early Modern Russia

Priority areas of development: humanitarian
Department: Centre for Modern Russian History
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Goal of research - developing (on the basis of a set of case studies) of a new narrative of the Russian history of the early modern era (XVIII - beginning of the XIX century), as seen through the prism of the processes of transfer and adaptation of Western European social, economic, and political ideas.


The methodological value of the project is connected with applying the relatively new methods of “cultural history” and “cultural translation” to the study of the intellectual and social interaction of Russia and the West.

Empirical base of research

In the course of the study, a wide range of archival materials were used that were not previously employed by historians, or employed to a very limited degree only, including documents from the investigation and trial of A D. Vinius; materials of D.M. Golitsyn’s Commission on taxes (1727–1730); documents and materials of the French adventurer, the self-proclaimed baron de Saint-Hilaire from a variety of Russian and European archives; a wide range of little-known manuscript translations of various Western European theoretical texts, preserved in the archives and libraries of Russia; biographic materials of the Malinovsky brothers from the Manuscript Department of State Historical Museum, AVPRI, RGADA, RGIA; materials from the Heraldry archive and the archives of naval schools.

Results of research

Work on the project included an exploration of a poorly studied episode in the life and career of Andrei Denisovich Vinius, a Dutch businessman, the founder of the first metallurgical plant in Russia, was conducted. The documents found in the course of the project in the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts allow us to confidently say that Vinius did not stop his mercantile activities even during the period when his main efforts were aimed at the creation of metallurgical enterprises near Tula.

The question of the tax burden in Russia of the 1720s is one of the most hotly debated in historiography of that period. While some historians, following P. N. Milyukov, viewed the capitation tax as having placed an extremely heavy burden on the population, others argued that its introduction did not significantly alter the severity of the tax burden. A study of the materials of D.M. Golitsyn’s Commission allowed project members to demonstrate that with the introduction of the poll tax the tax burden increased by 71%, and if the changes in grain prices are taken into account, by 116%.

The example of the French adventurer, the self-proclaimed Baron de Saint-Hilaire, who became the founder of the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg in 1715, shows the possibilities for social and cultural self-fashioning and self-reinvention at the dawn of the early modern era, as well as the mechanics of institutional innovation in the era of Peter the Great.

Our study of translated literature in Russia in the Petrine and post-Petrine period allow us to reconstruct the intellectual context in which a new monarchist discourse arises in Russia in the second half of the 18th century; to offer a parallel study of the development of two concepts, the constitution and the fundamental law; the story of translation and adaptation of the concepts of “state” and “society” shows how translators construct Russian equivalents of key concepts of European political thought, such as res publica, status, stato, état, societas, société, society, etc.

In the course of the study of the service career of the three Malinovsky brothers, their official biographies were reconstructed in the context of their kinship and client relations, and the role of their career strategies in the implementation of the transfer and adaptation of Western European social, economic, and political ideas. The role of educational institutions in the career development of members of the elite has been examined on the basis of a broad sample of graduates of naval educational institutions.


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Lavrinovich M. Wealth, Nobility and Sentiment: Aleksei Malinovskii’s Translation of August von Kotzebue’s Poverty and Nobleness of Mind as Self-Fashioning // Slavonic and East European Review. 2019
Польской С. В. «Должность государя патриота»: рукописный перевод и монархический дискурс Просвещения в России третьей четверти XVIII века // В кн.: Век Просвещения. Вып. VI: Что такое Просвещение? Новые ответы на старый вопрос. / Рук.: С. Я. Карп; сост.: Г. А. Космолинская; отв. ред.: С. Я. Карп; под общ. ред.: С. Я. Карп. Вып. VI: Что такое Просвещение? Новые ответы на старый вопрос. М. : Наука, 2018. С. 155-175.
Polskoy S. The Concepts of Fundamental Laws and Constitution in the 18th Century Russia / Social Science Research Network. Series SSRN Working Paper Series "SSRN Working Paper Series". 2018. No. No. WP BRP 169/HUM/2018.
Polskoy S. Dangerous and harmful books : The Russian manuscript translations of European political writings from Prince Dmitry Mikhaylovich Golitsyn’s library // Russian History. 2019