Never say always
Thank you for this and access to your History 247 class. Learning this history, I see the mendacious justifications of Putin are just that, fictions and fairy tales. As Orwell so aptly stated, "Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past." I hope history, as you teach it, will reach the masses. Thank you for making this reader excited about learning and massively grateful for your sharing your scholarship.
This should be published in a widely read/publicized venue. There is much to be revealed about our current state by understanding Putin. Thank you as always for sharing your knowledge and insight with a broader audience than just the Academic world. It is very important.
Thanks for this. There is clearly much more to it than just a bridge.
I'm intrigued by your observation that Putin has no vision for the future, coupled with a sense for the mystic that is equally hollow and empty. The past, however, is wrapped in the mystical skein with which he is able to inspire some kind of sentimental historical narrative - a tale of Russian identity that while being false nonetheless stitches together events, people, and places sufficiently to produce some kind of fabric.
How much of this imperial cloaking does the population believe in? To the extent that your "average Russian" believes in this version of Russian identity and history — the version that "legitimates" the current "special military operation" — is it truly the case that Putin needs to satisfy domestic expectations by means of military successes? Is that why makes the attack on the Kerch bridge a slap in the face?
Or is the truth more cynical? That the symbolic sleight of hand by which Putin enshrouds his scheming is in fact just a disguise and distraction. A historical narrative. That the real reasons for Putin's actions and his apparent lack of depth and culpability is his need to retain political power; his need to align with military men who will protect him from potential challengers. His need to feed a propaganda machine with excuses and reasons, regardless of how empty and false they may be?
And if, after all this, a war is fought and lost for a cause that was neither true nor real, what does a false Russian consciousness conjure for its future? What is a future unmoored from a past?
Thank you for this. I feel "educated" today in a way I haven't in a long time - really new information.
Thanks for this. It is very interesting, if a little scary to take a glimpse into Putin’s thinking. It makes my appreciation of the UN and the post 1945 rule of international law even greater. This kind of’might makes right’ bullying is precisely what the UN, and the like, were designed to prevent
Thank you, Tim! I'm enjoying every your article here on "Thinking about" and also distantly following your Ukrainian history class at Yale. For me as a Ukrainian it's really to see that point of view from outside. And worthe to notion - such a complex, thoughtful and insight point of view.
I can't express how much do we appreciate those impulse to broke the russian colonial narrative of percepting Ukraine in the world. You`re doing a heck of a job with that!
Terrific summary of the ebb and flow of various ethnic groups-nations starting before the year 1,000. I have read “Reconstruction of Nations”, “Bloodlands”, “Black Earth” and “Road to Unfreedom”. I found the Polish diplomatic efforts in the 1990’s, discussed in “Reconstruction of Nations”, towards establishing national boundaries that included more than one ethnic group as particularly a brilliant solution to the perpetual conflicts. Unfortunately, Putin has taken a much more destructive path.
Since the Ukraine would be an excellent trading partner, it seems to me that a wiser approach would be for Putin to establish good relations with them.
Tim: Have always enjoyed your scholarship which pins the lies and the liars as Tyrants. Glad you and Ken worked together on Holocost and hope you get Henry L. Gates, to work with you on Freedom. When we make truth attractive to the spirit, we really move forward. He is an "angel."
Thank you for sharing this incredible history. I have been appreciating your classes and look forward to them each week. I knew that the attack on Putin's bridge, however it happened and whoever caused it to happen, would result in a terrible lashing out in the most violent ways possible. I keep asking myself when the situation will become so intolerable that NATO will do more than wait for a missile to miss its target and land on Poland or Lithuania. Or what will they do when Russia attacks from Belarus. Putin is not going to leave Ukraine under his own power. Just like Trump has not left the presidency because he lost. Instead he continues to push the big lie and his hangers-on do the same. I hope folks will read Havel. The book is on your list of resources, but you referred to it in your lecture on freedom held at Colby College (?). I really wish that lecture were on Youtube. Havel and that lecture present a good look at our own situation of living in unreality - at least a part of the population. Pulling the curtain back is the job all of us who are not participating in the big lie must keep doing. But it is a huge curtain of deceit that touches so much of our own society that its very ubiquity makes it difficult to perceive.
Thank you for your cogency. Thinking of how "New Spain" became Mexico with independence, and another wave of settler colonialism created "New Mexico." Also the classicizing: 'tsar' = Caesar, after all.
So grateful for your insight into this subject. 🙏🏻
Prior to the current war on Ukraine, my knowledge of Ukraine was that my paternal ancestors were German wheat farmers in the Odessa from 1806 to 1903 located around the town of Franzfeld AND that Russia had attacked and claimed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Thank you for providing an amazing amount of historical information about that beautiful country. Thanks, also, for your Yale class on 'The Making of Modern Ukraine.'
I have also been 'auditing' "The Making of Modern Ukraine on the Yale History channel. This piece answers so many questions that I've had about the history of Crimea. I thought about forwarding this to Tucker Carlson, but I expect his handlers would never let him see it, and if they did.. well, it's probably too nuanced and certainly contrary to Carlson's simplistic and faulty world view. Still one can hope, right?
"History, as we work to see it, is ever so much more interesting than the myths that bring senseless wars. The political fantasies of tyrants, which claim to encapsulate some eternal truth, draw our attention away from the actual territory and the actual peoples who inhabited it and the actual institutions they built."
I pulled that quote from your post, because it stood out to me. History is so much more interesting than the dangerous imaginings of rulers (although they seem prone to imposing their imaginings on others). Hearing the stories of the colonized, the subjugated, and the everyday people trying to live in the midst of war is so much more revealing than the "official" stories of the ones in power!
Your class, "The Making of Modern Ukraine," is fascinating! I am running a bit behind with the lectures. I am halfway through Lecture 8, with Glen Dynner. I have been interested in Central and Eastern European history for a long time, and have read a lot, but I am learning so much through your class. I also appreciate your posts here, and seeing everyone else's thoughts and comments. It is a wonderful privilege to have thoughtful people to converse with, even if the conversation is not in person.
Thank you for your recent piece on the history of Crimea! It made me think about how Catherine II's colonial policies created the foundations for the deep split in the 19th-century Russian culture between the Westerners and the Slavophiles.
Putin likes talking about how Crimea has always been a part of Russia, when in fact it is not even true about the hinterlands of Russia itself. The middle and lower Volga maintained their autonomy until Catherine started her administrative reform and opened the gate for the wholesale resettlement of the Russian state peasants and German colonists on those lands displacing and assimilating the indigenous Finno-Ugric and Turkish peoples of the region.
As a German, Catherine clearly favored Germans over Russians especially because they were personally free before the abolition of serfdom. The descendants of those Germans definitely had an upper hand in social mobility after 1861, and the Russians felt resentment. I really wonder what the modern political map would have looked like if Catherine focused on abolishing serfdom and not on territorial conquests (I know she tried).
Thank you for making me engage with this! Not many chances with my daily job. :)
What does Elon Musk about your way to teach history without obnubilating the intricate effects of human agency through mythical claim of legitimatiion?