Current Institutional Affiliation
Lecturer & Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, History, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Harvard University
The Noblest Commerce: Intelligence and Sinology on the "Russian Route," 1685-1825

My dissertation deals with the way Russians came to understand, study, and spy on their southeastern neighbors, the Qing Empire, as the two states confronted each other between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. Intelligence, in the sense of practice-oriented knowledge gathered by actors working on behalf of the state, was vital for diplomatic and commercial relationships: for instance, ambassadors not only needed to know how the Qing court functioned, but also how best to make their way to the Chinese border and beyond. But embassies and trade caravans also shaped the way knowledge was created and circulated. The same ambassadors who had relied on the works of their predecessors returned to augment the Russian state's store of intelligence; for their part, trade caravans provided ample cover for spies as well as often serving as the only means of carrying letters and papers. A particular focus of the project is the relationship between the new Russian Academy of Sciences, created in 1724, and the Jesuit missionaries in Beijing. By forging scientific ties, the two groups nurtured each other's political hopes, with the Jesuits aiming to develop Russia as a link between Europe and China and the Russians hoping to cultivate their new correspondents as a privileged source of influence and intelligence at the Qing court. The role of the Jesuits as well as the increasing volume and importance of trade between the two empires ultimately gave the Russo-Chinese relationship crucial, and wide-ranging, global ramifications. By the end of the eighteenth century, the story had come to involve not just Russia and the Qing but also Britain, France, and the United States. In the nineteenth, the complex of intelligence-gathering mechanisms developed in the previous century produced, and gave way to, the specialized academic discipline known as sinology.