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ARRN Reading Group: Barbara Emerson: Russian and British Diplomacy in the 19th Century: the Same or Different?

Barbara Emerson, who is the author of several books on diplomatic history, discusses Anglo-Russian diplomatic relations during the nineteenth century. 

The Anglo-Russian Research Network will be discussing Russian and British diplomacy in the nineteenth century, led by the historian Barbara Emerson. The readings can be downloaded from the link below.

British historians of Anglo-Russian relations in the nineteenth century have portrayed Britain as a peace-loving empire, concerned only to protect her overseas possessions, in particular India, and her highly- successful trade. However, what emerges clearly from the dispatches and private letters in the Russian archives is that Britain was seen as a dangerous expansionist power bent on countering Russian power in Europe and preventing Russia from establishing herself in Central Asia on a footing comparable with that of Britain in India. No bones were made about the aim to dismember the Ottoman Empire. Successive Russian ambassadors in London, who remained en poste for long periods of time, were on good terms with the British establishment, but even they did not understand the liberalism that underpinned British foreign policy in the 19th century. The Polish revolution of 1830, brutally put down by Russia, marked the turning point after the relatively civil relations that followed the Napoleonic Wars. The two countries were then constantly at loggerheads. They were only once at war, the Crimean War, but were several times on the brink of hostilities over Central Asia, the Great Game, and Russia’s aim to capture Constantinople. Although Britain’s relations with the other European powers fluctuated, deep-seated mistrust of Russia and her ambitions, Russophobia, became ingrained in British foreign policy and in the mind of the general public. Anglophobia dominated the thinking of policy makers in St. Petersburg. A political psychosis developed that blinkered both Britain and Russia in their relations with each other. When, early in the twentieth century, they came to see that they had each more to fear from Germany than from each other major differences were resolved in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.

Barbara Emerson read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at St. Hilda's College Oxford, and is the author of several books on nineteenth-century diplomatic history, including a biography of Léopold II. She has just completed a book about Anglo-Russian diplomatic relations during the nineteenth century.

The Anglo-Russian Research Network organises termly reading groups for those interested in the interactions between British and Russian culture and politics in the period 1880-1950. These are informal events with plenty of discussion and wine, and are open to all. You can read more about the reading group and listen to podcasts]. If you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could let Rebecca Beasley ( and/ or Matthew Taunton ( know. The discussion will finish at 7, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.

Please download from the Anglo-Russian Research Network site using the password ‘ARRN112015’:

David MacLaren McDonald, ‘The Lessons of War’, in United Government and Foreign Policy in Russia, 1900-1914 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 76 102

Michael Hughes, ‘The Old Diplomacy’, in Diplomacy before the Russian Revolution: Britain, Russia, and the Old Dipomacy, 1894-1917(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), pp. 1-19

Barbara Emerson, ‘The Road Blocks to an Anglo-Russian Rapprochement’ (chapter from forthcoming study), 1-26

Barbara read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Hilda’s College, Oxford and later did a year at Harvard. She has written three books and many articles for journals, magazines and television. At the moment she is completing a book on Anglo-Russian Relations in the 19 th century. She had access to the archives of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Empire in the 1990s, previously not possible for non-Soviet citizens, so she is able to present the Russian view of events, such as the Great Game.