Article

The Development of the Principles of Writing of the Official History of the Cossacks in the Ministry of War

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Abstract

At the beginning of the 20th century the Ministry of War of the Russian Empire attempted to write the official history of the Russian Cossacks, which ended in complete failure. The article is dedicated to the first stage of the work on this project, during which the high ranks of the Ministry of War tried to understand how to organize scholarly research into the past of all Cossack troops. On the basis of the materials from the Manuscripts department in the National Library of Russia, the author demonstrates that at this stage the factors that predetermined the failure of the government project were clearly defined. Firstly, a personal factor is worth considering: there were no historians who were sufficiently prepared to immediately undertake work on such a series of books in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. As a result, the development of the principles of scholarly research into the past of the Russian Cossacks was entrusted to the amateur historian Lieutenant-General N. A. Maslakovets. His extremely unsuccessful decisions gave rise to many organizational and conceptual problems. For example, the General denied the significance of preliminary research. He compared the search for sources and literature with the activity of ‘mythical Sisyphus’ explaining that during the process of collecting material, new books would inevitably come out and new, previously unknown documents, would be discovered in the archives. N. A. Maslakovets also regarded a unified research plan as unnecessary step on the grounds that such kind of regimentation would ‘constrain the creators of these works’. He perceived the journalistic conservative concept of a Cossack warrior as the basis for the official history of the Cossacks, which failed to accommodate many historical facts. Even in his ‘broad historical perspective” on the emergence and development of the Cossack Hosts in Russia the General went beyond the boundaries of this concept, having focused on such questions as the descent and origins of Cossacks. As a result of the research, the author concludes that personal, organizational and conceptual factors had foredoomed attempts to create an official history of the Cossacks to failure even before the search for authors for “historical descriptions” of Cossack Hosts began.

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