Romancing Russia: The Effect of Emplotment on the Representation of a Nation

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Historians remain divided over the epistemology of history, with ongoing debate in historiography creating micro-fissures in the epistemic community of historians. By applying Hayden White’s theory of emplotment to analyse six Anglophone history texts on Russia’s Petrine period, this article engages with this debate, offering evidence which supports the postmodernist approach to the writing of history. The purpose of the study is to identify discursive patterns across the texts and to explore the effect of emplotment on representations of Russia as a nation. Textual analysis reveals that Russia during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries is romanticised as a golden era. Such romanticisation is possible because historians implement literary techniques such as Othering, Saming, backgrounding and foregrounding to shape their narratives. The romantic emplotment serves to force a factually liminal Russia into conformity with the prevailing geo-cultural paradigm couched in the West and the rest. Russia is not Othered, but it is also not unequivocally rendered as part of the Western Self. The article demonstrates how normative intersubjective structures affect representations of the past, and how writing on the past simultaneously reflects and reproduces those structures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-542
Number of pages20
JournalRethinking History
Issue number3-4
Early online date21 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Historiography
  • historying
  • Russia
  • emplotment
  • hayden White
  • representation
  • narrative


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