RUSSIAN COLONIZATION OF ALASKA (Baranov’s Era, 1799 -1818)
By Andrei Val’terovich Grinëv
Translated by Richard L. Bland
University of Nebraska Press
RUSSIAN COLONIZATION OF ALASKA is a long overdue book. But then again, for a very good reason. Four of them, actually. First, the critical documents for a scholar study like this one are not in Alaska – or the United States for that matter. Second, the documents which do exist in Russia are in archaic Russian so it would take a classical Russian scholar to interpret them. Third, scholarly research in foreign archives is not enough; you need a quality translator. Finally, fourth, finding a scholarly press that would be willing to publish a book with limited sales potential is difficult. But this book survived the four shortcomings.
And for good reason.
Overall, the book is mainstream for a scholarly publication. It is well-researched, loaded with footnotes and is not shy in bringing up ‘items’ which are frowned upon in American publication. As an example, in discussing the Russian Missionaries in Kodiak, “Most of them went into debauchery, took women, produced children, started drinking, in a word, became despicable even in the yes of the Aleuts themselves.” It is an on-the-ground narrative of two decades of Russian colonization that is usually glossed over in Alaska history classes. This work gives the reader – and historian – an unflinching look at a ruthless era. Like a gold rush, the fur rush was a mad dash for profit with little concern for what law in the path of profit.
This was an era drenched in blood, most of it from Native versus Native conflict. This is not a book for the squeamish historian. It is a chronicle of 19 wild years replete with mistake after blunder after misstep after corruption. RUSSIAN COLONIZATION OF ALASKA is a superb examination of every pimple, mole and blackhead of the era. Even with the mind-numbing Russian names – all authentic – the book should be a required for every class on the history of the Alaska.