Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

The Kolyvan-Voskresensk Plants and the Russian Integration of Southern Siberia, 1725-1783

How were the Russians, under early modern conditions, able to incorporate this distant, undeveloped and, because frequent nomadic attacks, dangerous territory? And what role did the Kolyvan-Voskresensk plants play in this process?

The period covered by my research runs from the founding of the first factories and mines in 1725 until 1783, when the region became part of the much larger Kolyvan Province. During this period, the Russian presence in southern Siberia remained insecure. The region was the stage for the struggle between three Eurasian empires – Russia, Qing China, and the Zunghar Khanate. How were the Russians, under early modern conditions, able to incorporate this distant, undeveloped and, because frequent nomadic attacks, dangerous territory? And what role did the Kolyvan-Voskresensk plants play in this process?

During the seventeenth century the Russian presence in Siberia was limited to the tundra and taiga zones. Powerful nomadic tribes like the Zunghars, Kazakhs, Teleuts and Yenisei Kirghiz prevented the Russians from conquering the Siberian (forest) steppe regions in the south. From the early eighteenth century onwards, this situation gradually changed. Using Tomsk, Kuznetsk, and Krasnoyarsk as bases, various forts were slowly built in, for example, the Altai and Sayan regions in an attempt to subdue the local native communities and to bring an end to the constant nomadic attacks on Russian villages and towns in the north.

But economic motives also played an important role in Russia’s eighteenth-century expansion into southern Siberia. The expansive and fertile steppe region gave the tsarist authorities the opportunity to further develop Siberia’s agricultural sector. At the same time, the Russians were attracted by the mineral wealth of the Altai region in particular. Already in the seventeenth century local Russian governors had – on the basis of, for example, indigenous stories about 'silver mountains' – sent some expeditions to the Siberian borderlands in search of mineral resources. As a result of the declining fur revenues in Siberia and Russia's ongoing wars in the west, the interest in minerals in southern Siberia increased even more at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1725 the famous Russian industrialist Akinfii Demidov was given permission by the court to establish some mines and processing plants in the 'wild Tatar places' ( dikie tatarskie mesta) of the Altai region. Because of the riches of the region's natural resources, the authorities confiscated Demidov's property with all surrounding land and their populations after his death in 1747. Until 1917, the region would be ruled by the tsar's private Kabinet; all incomes derived from the region would flow directly into the imperial family's treasury.

By drawing inspiration from new insights that were gained over the past decades by, amongst others, scholars who concern themselves with other frontier regions, both in Russia and in other empires, I will try to answer these questions. I will focus on three especially productive lines of recent scholarship: the history of center-periphery relations, environmental history, and the ethnohistory of colonial and native peoples. On the basis of these three fields of research, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of how early modern Eurasian empires tried to integrate their borderlands.

Connection with other research

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