Professor wins book prize
Margaret Hynds | Thursday, January 15, 2015
Professor Alexander Martin of the department of history was recently awarded the 2013 Marc Raeff Book Prize for his most recent work, “Enlightened Metropolis: Constructing Imperial Moscow, 1762-1855.”
The prize is awarded annually by the Eighteenth-Century Russian Studies Association (ECRSA) to works of “exceptional merit and lasting significance for understanding Imperial Russia, particularly during the long 18th century,” according to the group’s website.
According to Martin, who had not known that his book was under consideration for the prize until he was notified that he had won, the ECRSA, an affiliate of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, appoints a prize committee that reviews all new books in English, Russian and several other languages on Russian history, literature and art in the period from about 1689 to 1825. The prize is named after late historian and professor Marc Raeff, who taught at Columbia University.
Work for “Enlightened Metropolis” began after Martin finished his first book, “Romantics, Reformers, Reactionaries: Russian Conservative Thought and Politics in the Reign of Alexander I,” in the late 1990s, he said. His research for his latest book took him abroad on several occasions.
“I spent one semester in 1999 working with rare books in Germany, and two semesters in 2002 and 2004 researching in archives and libraries in Moscow,” Martin said.
Martin said his book explores two major questions that historians of modern and imperial Russia study.
“Two of the biggest questions of Russia after 1700 are how Russians became culturally European and why the 1917 revolution happened,” Martin said in an e-mail. “In my book, I address both questions. I look at Moscow, a place that previously reminded Europeans of the Middle East, and I ask: How did it change under the tsars from a supposedly “Asiatic” city to one that was recognizably European? And, why didn’t this strengthen the regime’s popularity?
“To find an answer, I explore three things. First, how the regime tried to modernize the city — the police, the schools, street lights, pavement, drainage and so on. Second, how this affected the life and the attitudes of Moscow’s middle classes; and third, how journalists, novelists and so on described these changes.
“What I found is that Muscovites thought increasingly like Europeans, but for precisely that reason they held the tsarist regime to a Western standard that it wasn’t able to meet,” Martin said.
Looking to the future, Martin plans to expand the release of “Enlightened Metropolis” and also has another project on the horizon that will take him in a different direction than his previous research and writing.
“My book on Moscow will come out in a Russian-language edition later this year, which I’m very excited about,” he said. “My next project is a biography of a German immigrant who had a fascinating life in Germany and Russia in the decades around 1800. After writing about a whole city, it’s fun to immerse myself in the detective work of reconstructing the life of just one person.”