Prying Open Japan: Russia's 1852-1855 Expedition and Ivan Goncharov's Travelogue, "The Frigate Pallada (1858)"

Wed, Mar 23, 2016, 4:30 pm


Edyta Bojanowska

Rutgers University

“Prying Open Japan: Russia’s 1852-1855 Expedition and Ivan Goncharov’s Travelogue The Frigate Pallada (1858)” 

British victory in the First Opium War and news of Matthew Perry’s U.S. mission to “open up” Japan prompted the imperial Russian government in 1852 to send a rival mission.  The famous Russian writer Ivan Goncharov joined it as secretary to the commander, later becoming the voyage’s historian and bard.  His travelogue, The Frigate Pallada (1858), titled after the expedition’s flagship, became an imperial-era bestseller.  Edyta Bojanowska will discuss Goncharov’s description of Japan and of the Russians’ diplomatic negotiations with the Japanese.  Poised between fact and fancy, Goncharov’s travelogue documents the mission yet also records the author’s own impressions and ideological positions.  Goncharov mingles ethnographic descriptions of Japanese manners (which Soviet critics were too quick to judge as respectful and benign), with support for a muscular, militaristic imperialism.  An arsenal of classic colonial tropes assists Goncharov in asserting Europe’s and Russia’s civilizing mission in Asia.  The Frigate Pallada shows Russian Orientalism operating in recognizably European terms.  The book’s vision of Russia’s relation to Asia proved influential in tsarist times and beyond.

The talk comes from Bojanowska’s book manuscript, The Colonial World through Russian Eyes (under contract with Harvard University Press), which positions the mid-nineteenth century Russian empire in global imperial history. 

202 Jones Hall

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