At a time when public attention is focused on differences rather than similarities, comparative studies of Russia and Europe open new perspectives beyond the familiar dichotomous discourse. In this spirit, my MCSA project “Denmark and Russia: Why two Arctic empires developed so differently and continue to diverge?” (DEAR) examines Russo-Danish relations in the 18th and the 19th centuries. For the entire 18th century the two states were very close in terms of economic and institutional development, but after the abolition of serfdom in Denmark in 1800 their paths diverged significantly. This was most striking with the gradual collapse of the Danish empire, and the subsequent rapid development of the remaining territory, whereas Russia remains relatively “backward”, but with its territory largely intact. From the 1860s until the 1920s a much-reduced Denmark became a teacher to its larger partner through the transfer of knowledge, expertise, and experts – a process which aided Russian development, and emphasizes the links between the two countries. The overarching question motivating DEAR is to explore what accounts for the ultimately divergent pathways of the two empires as well as the rapid disintegration of the Danish Empire and the survival of the Russian Empire, given their initial similarities. DEAR combines the expertise of the Historical Economics and Development Group (HEDG) at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) in Danish economic history and quantitative methods, my research experience in Russian economic history, and the access of both to unique datasets on the preindustrial and early industrial development of these countries.
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