Nikolaj Karamzin (1766-1826) - a Russian European

Nikolaj Karamzin

Before the figure of A. S. Puškin, it was Nikolaj Michajlovic Karamzin who uniquely symbolised European-oriented Russian culture. This project will provide the first German biography of Karamzin, showing how as a polyglot man of letters he became a prominent author of "cultural translations" for the Tsarist Empire and an "interpreter" of Russian literature in the West. In his "Letters of a Russian Traveller" and the journals which he edited after the French Revolution of 1789 he informed his readers about literature, intellectual trends, morals and political events in West and Central Europe. Here in turn he became known via the translations of his own prose and poetry. He was considered to be the most famous Russian writer of his day. The historical circumstances of his journeys through Germany, Switzerland, France and England in 1789/90, where he met and engaged in discussions with I. Kant, F. Nicolai, K. Ph. Moritz, J. G. Herder, Ch. M. Wieland, J. C. Lavater and Ch. Bonnet will be contrasted with the fictitious representation of the "Traveller" in his "Letters". In Karamzin's historical writings - he was appointed Imperial Historiographer by the Tsar in 1803 - we can trace the transition from a "rhetorical" method of writing to historical writing based on research and knowledge of sources. He focussed on the need which Russian readers felt for the provision of a "national narrative" of the country's origins and its rise to power. His European scholarly readers expected a portrayal of the early history of the Eurasian Empire based on source material. Karamzin established a "network" of contributors both at home and abroad who went to archives and libraries for him - among others in Wolfenbüttel - and located and transcribed source material. The literary quality of his twelve-volume classic "History of the Russian State" remains undisputed. Karamzin's essay "On the Old and New Russia" (1811) will be edited here for the first time in German translation as a key document of Russian intellectual ideas. The manuscript of the monograph shall be submitted at the end of 2016.



Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Duration: April 2009 – March 2013 (publication is still pending)
Researcher: Dr. Michael Schippan
Phone: +49(0)5331-808-235, Fax -277