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Tales from Imperial Russia is a fortnightly podcast narrating ordinary and extraordinary lives from the Russian Empire. In episodes about 10-20 minutes long, we will avoid the oft-retold stories of emperors and battles to focus on the mostly forgotten lives of individuals from an amazing array of locales, peoples, and circumstances. This podcast is written and performed by Dr James White, a professional historian at Ural Federal University (Ekaterinburg) and the University of Tartu. For my a ...
 
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As is well known, Grigorii Rasputin wielded a considerable and scandalous level of influence over Tsar Nicholas II. What is less well known is that this was not the first time that a holy man managed to worm his way into the good graces of an emperor and create destructive consequences. This episode follows the life and career of Fotii (Spasskii), …
 
In 1817, Agustín José Pedro del Carmen Domingo de Candelaria de Betancourt y Molina (known in Russian as Avgustin Betankur) surveyed the site of one of his most important engineering projects, the future Nizhnii Novgorod Trade Fair. In this episode, we move from Betankur's impressive architectural designs to daily life at the fair, tracing the riba…
 
In August 1702, the serving girl Marta came into the possession of a Russian general following a siege. Some twenty-two years later, she was crowned Empress Catherine I of all Russia. In this episode, we follow the remarkable story of this woman and the men who fell in love with her, especially Peter the Great. Source: I. Pavlenko, Ekaterina I (Mos…
 
Between 1770 and 1772, Moscow saw a virulent outbreak of the Black Death, one of the most feared diseases in European history: Dr Afanasii Shafonskii was tasked with battling this epidemic. In this episode, we follow the plague's progress as it caused death, deprivation, and revolt in Russia's biggest city. The principal source for this episode and…
 
In the 1890s, the tiny village of Ashchepkovo in western Russia was struck by an epidemic of demonic possession. This episode attempts to understand this and other cases of malign spells by entering the mystical and magical world of the Russian peasantry. Sources: C. Worobec, Possessed: Women, Witches, and Demons in Imperial Russia (DeKalb: Illinoi…
 
In the early nineteenth century, Raffaele Scassi, Genoese gambler and ne'er-do-well, found himself in the newly founded Black Sea port of Odessa. This was the beginning of a remarkable career in Russian service that led to adventures in the Caucasian mountains, the rebuilding of a ruined Crimean town, and the preservation of ancient Greek relics. T…
 
In 1889, a small band of unlikely Russian colonists seized the abandoned fortress of Sagallo in today's Djibouti. Led by the would-be Cossack Nikolai Ashinov, they triggered an international incident. But how did all this come to pass? The answer lies in Ashinov's career of skullduggery, deceipt, and falsehood. Sources: A. V. Lunochkin, “Ataman vol…
 
In 1852, the novelist and government bureaucrat Ivan Goncharov set sail on the frigate Pallada for a mission to closed-off Japan. This episode follows Goncharov as he encountered Africans and Asians across an imperial world dominated by the British, Dutch, and Spanish. This episode is based on translations and information provided by Edyta M. Bojan…
 
From the Baltic to the Black Sea, the First World War's eastern front massacred men by the thousand. Father Dimitrii Smirnov, along with hundreds of other religious officials, tried to offer spiritual solace to the fighting and the dying, all while suffering hardships himself and witnessing the horrors of modern warfare. Father Dimitrii's experienc…
 
In 1910, Europe and Russia were rocked by a sensational murder trial: three Russians stood accused of conspiring to murder one of their compatriots in Venice. Filmed and photographed, the lurid details of affairs and petty violence shocked the world. But what brought these Russians to such dire straits? And what did the trial reveal about how Europ…
 
In 1904, a shepherd and his daughter created a new religion in the Altai mountain ranges, leading to a violent confrontation with Russian settlers and a dramatic trial. But what was the cause of this outburst and what was the ultimate fate of the new faith? [Originally released on 22 January 2021, this episode was re-recorded on 9 February 2021]. R…
 
Tales from Imperial Russia is a fortnightly podcast narrating ordinary and extraordinary lives from the Russian Empire. In episodes about 10-20 minutes long, we will avoid the oft-retold stories of emperors and battles to focus on the mostly forgotten lives of individuals from an amazing array of locales, peoples, and circumstances. This podcast is…
 
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