Browse Exhibits (2 total)

Potemkin and Yekaterinoslav - "The Garden of the Empire"

Exhibit Author: SM

Many historians, when looking at Catherine’s annexation of the Crimea, focus solely on her motivations for the annexation being a stepping-stone to accomplish other, father-reaching goals.  This historical focus ignores the important role that Catherine had in mind for the Crimea as an end in and of itself.  The Crimea could be used for exhibiting the fact that she was an Enlightened ruler on par with the great European rulers, and that she was creating an Enlightened empire that would not just copy those of the rest of the world, but be a shining example.  That Catherine valued the Crimea for these purposes can be seen by the actions taken by herself and Potemkin, her main adviser, with relation to this area.

This new land allowed Catherine the opportunity to show her abilities to govern in an Enlightened way in many different aspects.  The more pleasant climate, landscape, vegetation, and the supposed “barbarity” of inhabitants left her ample ways to create her ideal paradise city.  Both Catherine and Potemkin worked hard to create this exemplary city in her conquered territory and make sure that the rest of the world knew of their efforts and accomplishments.

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The Rise of the Russian Intelligentsia

Exhibit Author: FV

Catherine’s proclaimed dedication to enlightened ideals is evident through her correspondence with various French philosophes, and her political treatise, the Nakaz. Though the Empress was often labeled as an “enlightened despot,” she nonetheless views herself as a just and tolerant ruler who worked to establish rational rules for her subjects. Equally as controversial as Catherine’s enlightened tendencies, is the question of whether the emergence of a noble “intelligentsia” constituted an evolution in the Russian public sphere. Though Western ideals began to make their way into Russia under Peter the Great in the earlier 18th century, Catherine, an enthusiastic patron of the arts and academia, tentatively encourages the wider growth of public ideas. Burgeoning 18th century Russian intelligentsia thus began to develop intellectual pursuits, but they remained relatively unsophisticated and largely an extension of the state. The public exchange of intellectual ideas was limited both by the systemic issues in Russian politics and society, as well as by the autocratic nature of Catherine’s rule.

The Russian nobility’s ventures into intelligentsia pursuits were fragile because little progress could be made in the public sphere without Catherine’s approval. Although Russia continued its modernization and Westernizing trend throughout Catherine’s reign, the lack of separation between the state and public sphere prevented the generous proliferation of writers and thinkers that were so prominent in Western Europe. Instead, the limited intellectual pursuits of the 18th century nobility could only set the stage for the formation of the so-called authentic intelligentsia of later decades.  

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