Petrov: What is the idea behind this project ”Meeting
How did it develop, and where do you see it headed?
Billington: Actually, the project consists of two stages.
The first goes back to my early research, and in particular my book The
Icon and the Axe. I’ve always been interested in the parallels between
Russia and America, particularly starting with the period of the 16th-17th
centuries. I would like to mention the fact that Russian colonization
has developed in stages, and has certain steps. From this time to
now, I believe Russia’s history has been part of European history.
Many things were happening in Russia at the same time. For example,
exploration of the East coincided with very tumultuous periods in Russian
history, for example the Time of Troubles and the split in the Orthodox
Church, together with the exodus of the Old Believers to Siberia. The idea
of the frontier was developed not only in America, but also in Russia.
In Russia, the frontier was not just in the East, but in the North also.
The frontier was in the mind of the people, but was geographical and political
as well. Russian, as well as American history, could be understood
as the adoption of some European technological and political innovations
in all spheres. For example, Peter the Great adopted the Swedish
model of government institutions, while Russian industry was based mainly
on the German model, as well as in America where the governmental institutions
were based on the advances of the Enlightenment and are based deeply on
European tradition. I would also like to mention the role of the Russian
North in the development in the exploration and development of Siberia.
So that people from Vologda, for example, can find out more about the parallel
processes happening in Siberia and other northern places such as Novgorod.
I feel further research should be done on this matter.
So the second step is to put these ideas of parallel history together. The idea has been always to present a fresh approach to both Russian and American history, thereby transcending boundaries. This notion came about during the spread of the internet, an innovation I believe is replacing the book culture. The internet is in itself another frontier. I discussed this project with Senator Ted Stevens, because it was Alaska where the Russian and American frontiers first met, and met with great interest in his part. The approach was for the project to address different areas of the humanities. The idea is for anyone to be able to ask a question in an area of interest, to be able to zoom in as it were, but also for those generally interested in the topic, to ‘zoom out’, in schools, for example. Its primary use is as a powerful educational tool.