Description

Empire Maker

Aleksandr Baranov and Russian Colonial Expansion into Alaska and Northern California

Kenneth N. Owens
With Alexander Yu. Petrov

  • Published: 2015. Paperback January 2017
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir
  • Bibliographic information: 360 pp., 8 illus., 4 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Samuel and Althea Stroum Books
  • Contents

A native of northern Russia, Alexander Baranov was a middle-aged merchant trader with no prior experience in the fur trade when, in 1790, he arrived in North America to assume command over Russia's highly profitable sea otter business. With the title of chief manager, he strengthened his leadership role after the formation of the Russian American Company in 1799. An adventuresome, dynamic, and charismatic leader, he proved to be something of a commercial genius in Alaska, making huge profits for company partners and shareholders in Irkutsk and St. Petersburg while receiving scandalously little support from the homeland.

Baranov receives long overdue attention in Kenneth Owens's Empire Maker, the first scholarly biography of Russian America's virtual imperial viceroy. His eventful life included shipwrecks, battles with Native forces, clashes with rival traders and Russian Orthodox missionaries, and an enduring marriage to a Kodiak Alutiiq woman with whom he had two children. In the process, the book reveals maritime Alaska and northern California during the Baranov era as fascinating cultural borderlands, where Russian, English, Spanish, and New England Yankee traders and indigenous peoples formed complex commercial, political, and domestic relationships that continue to influence these regions today.
Kenneth N. Owens is professor emeritus of history and ethnic studies, California State University, Sacramento.

"[Owens provides] full and useful context for every stage of Baranov's career, and much information which helps the reader appreciate the character of the man and how his experiences contributed to his success as chief manager. An important addition to the growing literature on the history of Russian America."
-Stephen Haycox, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Alaska Anchorage

"Will be the definitive, critical biography of Baranov; there is really nothing else like it. In every chapter, Owens sets Baranov's life in the context of the natural, geopolitical, and historical setting, filling in the background to the Baranov we encounter in the existing documentation and histories."
-Richard Dauenhauer, coeditor of Russians in Tlingit America

"In Owens's hands, the story of Aleksandr Baranov becomes something much larger and more momentous than biography. Empire Maker brings to life the machinations of the Russian Empire in the northern Pacific: its ambitions and plans, its relations with indigenous populations, and certainly its leadership by Baranov. Based on decades of archival research, this may be the most important study to date of Russia's American empire. Owen's book is simply a phenomenal achievement."
-David Igler, author of The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush

"Aleksandr Baranov deserves to be known in the same company as John Jacob Astor and other frontier entrepreneurs whose enterprising efforts transformed North America in the age of imperial expansion. He reshaped the Pacific Rim and left an enduring mark on the geography and history of that far flung and diverse quarter of the globe. Exhaustively researched and elegantly written, Kenneth N. Owens's treatment of this intriguing, colorful, and significant frontier figure will reward readers and reign as the definitive biography for decades to come."
-Albert Hurtado, author of Herbert Eugene Bolton: Historian of the American Borderlands

Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments

1. A Man of the North
2. Siberian Merchant Capitalist
3. Moving to America
4. Taking Command
5. Calamities and Catastrophes
6. The Missionary Monks and the Chief Manager
7. Government Men, Monks, and the Alutiiq Rebellion
8. The Russian-American Company
9. The Sitka Sound War
10. Beyond Alaska
11. Averting Disasters
12. Closing the Baranov Era

Abbreviations: Russian Archival Repositories
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Reviews

"This is an highly enjoyable book about a part of America that few people in America would even know about. The author does an excellent job of placing Mr. Baranov in his time and the events that would influence him. An excellent book about a man very people know about."
-Kevin Winter, Manhattan Book Review

"[Empire Maker] transcends the limits of biography through some stellar archival work and by letting Baranov's story recede at key times behind the larger epic of Russian America. The authors have managed to give us both a very useful picture of life as a merchant in nineteenth-century Russia as well as a new, very accessible general history of the colony that nicely complements Lydia Black's and Ilya Vinkovetsky's recent works on the subject. . . . [An] excellent biography."
-Ryan Jones, The Russian Review

"[Aleksandr Baranov] has never been the subject of a full-length scholarly biography. Empire Maker. . . is a praiseworthy effort to remedy that oversight. . . . Owens has woven biographical facts gleaned from widely scattered sources into a cohesive narrative set in historical and cultural context."
-Katherine Arndt, Alaska History

"This work is not merely the first comprehensive and well-researched biography of Baranov but also a valuable contribution to the multilayered and interdisciplinary study of Russian overseas colonialism. . . . The project is important not only for the academic community but also for politicians, the public, and the media on both sides of the Atlantic."
-Victoria I. Zhuravleva, Journal of American History

"What will surely remain the definitive English-language study of Aleksandr Andreevich Baranov. . . . This deeply researched study is the rare book that historians of Russia and the North American frontier alike will read with great interest and benefit."
-Robert H. Greene, Montana: The Magazine of Western History