New Arrival

Hello, everyone! My name is John Randolph, I’ll be blogging here for the coming year (at least), and I’m grateful to Steven Barnes and colleagues for getting this blog rolling. I’m an Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois, and specialize in the intellectual and cultural history of the early Russian Empire, roughly 1650-1850.

"Coachman, Leaning on a Whip-Handle" by Vasilii Tropinin (1820s)

My first book, published in 2007, was a biography of the Bakunin family. In it, I tried to rethink the making of a few Imperial Russian intellectual traditions through the prism of family life. Right now, I’m studying the history of the Imperial Russian post-horse relay system. This was a giant network of obligated communities, whose residents ferried officials, things, and information (up to and including letter post) from place to place to place across most of Russian Eurasia. I’ll have a lot more to say about this practice—known in Russian as ямская гоньба (iamskaia gon’ba)—in the future.


What am I going to be blogging about? Two things, mostly. First: life on Russia’s roads in the 18th century, as I am discovering it while working on my new project. Second: the after-life of Imperial Russia, as it is finding expression in digital media. By ‘after-life’ I mean various forms of continuing meaning: history, memory and everything in between. Sometimes I hope to be informational, sometimes critical, and on occasion just curious. Given what I’m working on now, my bias will be toward small-town Russia, early Russia, and sleigh bells, although I can’t say a Tsar or two won’t make it in from time to time.

Here’s, then, what I hope to offer: an invitation to join my excursion onto old Russia’s roads, and beyond that a working historian’s appreciation of the digital Russian past. I thank you in advance for your patience as I get started, and look forward to being a part of the discussions going on here.

By John Randolph

John Randolph is Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois.

3 replies on “New Arrival”

Hi, John!

So glad to see another blogger coming on board–I enjoy the range of perspectives being gathered here.

I’m a historical novelist, working on a manuscript set towards the end of the Cold War. My focus, of course, is on those few years, but I don’t think it’s at all possible to understand Soviet culture without studying the centuries of Russian culture and history that preceded it. So Russia, in all its history, continues to hold a strong fascination for me. I love trivia, quirky details and arcane facts; and I look forward to reading whatever you have to share on the Russian post system.

Best wishes,


Thanks for your interest, Lucy! I very much enjoy the prose of everyday life myself, so I’ll try to keep it coming. Good luck with your novel — perhaps someday you’ll put some of it on line, so we can read it? Or do publishers not like that. We hear conflicting things in the historical profession.

Thanks, John! In general, the best time to release a novel excerpt is pre-sale, but after the book is ready to go to press–guided, of course, by the publisher’s discretion. While many writers do post novel excerpts online before submitting for publication, it’s not a practice I recommend. For one thing, novels are acquired eighteen months or up to two years before being released–so if you’re trying to generate press, you’re much too early. For another, those stunning opening chapters that wowed your friends and family may meet a reality check from your editor, and leave your excerpt fans wondering if it’s really the same book.

Academics can sometimes get an early read, however, if they link up with a writer whose interests match their own. We love finding beta readers who are also experts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.