The vast and expanding Russian empire of the eighteenth century was inhabited by a great number of peoples. This book, part anthology, part commentary, is the first of its kind to bring together British travellers' accounts of the peoples and places of the lesser known but key parts of Russia s frontiers: the Lower Volga, Azerbaijan, parts of Kazakhstan and 'independent Tartary' or central Asia. In the course of their journeys the travellers variously encountered indigenous Finnic groups, diverse sedentary and nomadic Tatars and Mongol Oirats (Kalmyks). With the exception of central Asia, Russia made significant inroads into these regions from 1700 onwards, with a resulting cultural impact on their non-Slavic inhabitants that included forced Christianisation, the restriction of pastures and the settlement of foreign and Russian colonies. The majority of writers included here were working in Russia and travelled in the course of their duties, visiting parts little known to Western Europeans. Their observations include ethnographic, scientific, antiquarian and contemporary historical analysis.
They reflect eighteenth-century enlightenment curiosity and the writers personal voices but were also coloured by experiences at the hands of the state and by Russia's spectacular growth, which prompted feelings ranging from admiration to alarm. Commentaries contextualise the texts, and include references to contemporary observers working for the St. Petersburg academy of sciences (academicians) and other foreign travellers as well as to modern scholarship. This anthology, which spans nearly one hundred years, introduces the reader to the various areas regionally, thematically and chronologically, and while giving an overview of the history of the times, reveals geopolitical issues that still deeply affect many of these regions today.