Russian California, 1806-1860
A History in Documents
This two-volume book is a documentary history of Russia’s 19th-century settlement in California. It contains 492 documents (letters, reports, travel descriptions, censuses, ethnographic and geographical information), mostly translated from the Russian for the first time, very fully annotated, and with an extensive historical introduction, maps, and illustrations, many in colour. This broad range of primary sources provides a comprehensive and detailed history of the Russian Empire’s most distant and most exotic outpost, one whose liquidation in 1841 presaged St Petersburg’s abandonment of all of Russian America in 1867. Russia from the sixteenth century onwards had steadily expanded eastwards in search of profitable resources. This expansion was rapid, eased not only by the absence of foreign opposition and disunity of the native peoples but also by Siberia’s river network and the North Pacific’s convenient causeway of the Aleutian chain leading to Alaska. It was paid for largely by the ’soft gold’ of Siberian sables and Pacific sea otters. By the end of the 1700s, however, on the Northwest Coast of North America the Russians met increasing opposition from the indigenous people (Tlingits) and foreign rivals (American and English fur-trading vessels).
James R. Gibson is Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar at York University in Toronto, where he taught from 1966 until 2000; he has also taught at University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, and Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel. An historical geographer, his speciality is Russia’s eastward expansion, particularly in the Northwest Coast sphere of imperial rivalry. He is the author, editor, and translator of some 140 publications, including Feeding the Russian Fur Trade (1969) and Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods (1992), which received several awards. Professor Gibson was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1972-3 and a Killam Fellow in 1985-7; in 1989 he received the Canadian Association of Geographers Scholarly Distinction Award, and in the same year he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He was joint editor, with Alexei Istomin and V.A. Tishkov, of Rossiia v Kalifornii (Moscow 2005 and 2012). Alexei A. Istomin is Senior Research Associate of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. He has a Candidate’s degree in History at Moscow State University and is a specialist on the history and ethnography of Russian America and Latin America and the indigenes of North America. He was joint editor of Rossiia v Kalifornii (Moscow 2005 and 2012).
'Gibson and his co-editors are to be commended for the scholarly undertaking that has produced such substantial work on the RAC's history in California. ... Having focused such considerable attention on one of Russia's smallest colonial projects, we can only hope that the Hakluyt Society will continue to publish equally outstanding collections on the other parts of the Russian Empire. In the meantime, the field undoubtedly is enriched by such professional publications.' Russian Review