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Muscovy and the "General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century"

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This article discusses the applicability of the concept of the "general crisis of the seventeenth century" to Russia. The author begins by reviewing the literature on the "general crisis," particularly the contributions that potentially throw the most light on Russia's historical experience. Jack Goldstone's new book, Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World, receives particular attention. The author argues that Goldstone's multi-causal, but ultimately new-Malthusian model is not helpful in explaining Russian developments: insofar as historians understand them, demographic trends in seventeenth-century Russia do not support Goldstone's arguments. In more general terms, the author concludes that a number of contributions to the debate on the "general crisis" do help to explain Russian events. In fact, Russia had two profound crises that display important parallels with simultaneous events elsewhere in Europe- the Time of the Troubles (1598-1613) and the crisis of 1648-49. The former was the most severe of the many European crises of the 1590s. The latter was, in essence, a revolt of taxpayers against the rapidly increasing demands of an absolutist state. Although the rebels did not overthrow Tsar Alexis' regime, his government, in response, took important steps toward more effective absolute rule, most importantly the full enserfment of the manorial peasantry.


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Affiliations: 1: University of California-Davis


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