Sergei Antonov - "Bankrupts and Usurers of Imperial Russia" - Faith Hillis

Friday, November 4, 2016 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Sergei Antonov discusses Bankrupts and Usurers of Imperial Russia: Debt, Property, and the Law in the Age of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. He will be joined in conversation by Faith Hillis.

Presented in partnership with CEERES

At the Co-op


About the book: As readers of classic Russian literature know, the nineteenth century was a time of pervasive financial anxiety. With incomes erratic and banks inadequate, Russians of all social castes were deeply enmeshed in networks of credit and debt. The necessity of borrowing and lending shaped perceptions of material and moral worth, as well as notions of social respectability and personal responsibility. Credit and debt were defining features of imperial Russia’s culture of property ownership. Sergei Antonov recreates this vanished world of borrowers, bankrupts, lenders, and loan sharks in imperial Russia from the reign of Nicholas I to the period of great social and political reforms of the 1860s.

Poring over a trove of previously unexamined records, Antonov gleans insights into the experiences of ordinary Russians, rich and poor, and shows how Russia’s informal but sprawling credit system helped cement connections among property owners across socioeconomic lines. Individuals of varying rank and wealth commonly borrowed from one another. Without a firm legal basis for formalizing debt relationships, obtaining a loan often hinged on subjective perceptions of trustworthiness and reputation. Even after joint-stock banks appeared in Russia in the 1860s, credit continued to operate through vast networks linked by word of mouth, as well as ties of kinship and community. Disputes over debt were common, and Bankrupts and Usurers of Imperial Russia offers close readings of legal cases to argue that Russian courts—usually thought to be underdeveloped in this era—provided an effective forum for defining and protecting private property interests.

About the author: Sergei Antonov teaches Russian, Soviet, and European history at Queens College (City University of New York) and at Columbia University. He earned his Ph.D. from Columbia and he also holds a J.D. from NYU School of Law. He is admitted to the New York bar and practiced law for two years in New York City prior to becoming a historian. His first book, Bankrupts and Usurers of Imperial Russia: Debt, Property, and the Law in the Age of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, has just appeared from Harvard University Press. His research focuses on culture and society in late nineteenth-century Russia. He is especially interested in the origins of modern capitalism, the culture of crime and punishment, as well as the engagement of ordinary Russians with legal norms and institutions. A native of Moscow, Antonov came to live in the United States in 1992 with his parents.

About the interlocutor: Faith Hillis is Assistant Professor of Russian History at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Children of Rus': Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation (Cornell University Press, 2013). She is currently writing a book about tsarist subjects who fled the Russian empire in the nineteenth century and the émigré communities that they created abroad.

About the co-sponsor: The University of Chicago has been providing instruction in disciplines of the CEERES region continuously since 1903, when courses in Russian language and area studies were begun. The center now known as CEERES has been in existence since 1965, and it continues to coordinate instruction and facilitate research about Russia/Eurasia and Eastern/Central Europe, including the Baltic States, Balkans, Caucasus, and Central Asia. In addition to its robust language offerings, CEERES supports curricula which are particularly strong at present in Russian/Soviet history; Slavic, Balkan, and Baltic linguistics; nationalities studies of the former USSR; Slavic literatures (Russian, Polish, Czech); Russian and East European cultural anthropology; comparative literature; archaeology of the Caucasus; Russian and East European film and art history, and business administration. CEERES faculty have expertise also in political science, international relations, economics, sociology, and Central and East European, Byzantine, and Ottoman history.

Event Location: 
Seminary Co-op Bookstore
5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637