This page is referenced by:
Guidebook to a Lost Empire
a Twitter thread / timeline / map story mashup
This is a story unfolding - as of September 1, 2020 - on Twitter.
At its heart is a travel guide published in 1914 by the Karl Baedeker publishing house, called Russia with Teheran, Port Arthur, and Peking: A Handbook for Travellers.
Baedeker's Handbook has been acclaimed as the "best" guidebook to Russia ever written. (If you don't believe us, read the preamble.) It contains 88 itineraries through the space of the Russian Empire as it was in 1914 (with extensions to Peking and Teheran). Most itineraries describe rail travel, but a handful of routes are by steamship or on horseback. They pass through towns and villages, capitals and backwaters, providing notes on where to stay, where to eat, and how to spend one's time (and money). The Handbook is available in digital format (find it here).Your job is to click, drag, and zoom. You can't break anything, so don't be shy. In fact, if you don't play an active role, you will miss most of the good stuff. We have designed the Guidebook with the expectation that you will click on hypertext, play with colored dots, and pore over maps. We promise, you will be rewarded with all sorts of intriguing insights about what was common - and what was uncommon - across the Russian Empire.
This Guidebook is an interactive reinvention of it. If the Handbook is a series of itineraries, the Guidebook is a series of tweets. (And maps. And historical sketches. And all sorts of other goodies.)
Our purpose is to both draw your attention to the linear experience of space made possible by scripted travel itineraries and enable you to toss the script, leap from one location to another at will, and see the Russian Empire through the lens of sport or gardens or mountains or museums.
As each tweet migrates here it receives a title and becomes an entry in the Guidebook. The entries populate the "tweetlines" that are at the heart of the Guidebook project. We tend to enhance them with images and/or hypertext that you won't find in their corresponding tweets.
Best of all, we load them with tags. This means that if you grow tired of following an itinerary, you always have the option of clicking on a tag and exploring the set of locations that have that tag in common (koumiss cures! ruins! castles!).
To get started scroll down to the "Contents" and choose your path. Fair warning though, the preamble comes first for a reason. There are things you need to know. One doesn't just rush head-long into Russia on the eve of world war and revolution.
Oh, and don't forget that you can always enter a placename or term in the search box in the upper right corner.
Baedeker's Russia: A Handbook for Travellers (1914) contains 88 itineraries. We are assembling them here one by one, recreating the sequence of each journey and connecting places - across itineraries - by theme.
What to expect when you click on a "Route"Champagne? Confetti? Fireworks?
At the top of the page you will see the full set of stations as placemarks on a Google Map. The placemark number corresponds to the station sequence. You can read more about a location by clicking on the placemark and then on the placename.
Just below the interactive map is a subtle link that will bring you back back to this page.
Then we get to the good stuff. The timeline is next, showing the tweet thread for the itinerary. Navigate using the black arrows on either side or by dragging the timeline in either direction. Once you have scrolled the timeline, we recommended going back and opening the initial tweet so that you can see the full content. Page through from there using the arrows on either side of the page or making use of the handy blue "continue" button at the bottom of the screen. Return to main route page using the (subtle) link at the top. There is a "How to Use This Page" guide on every route page to help you with all of this.
The tags are at the bottom of the page, and this is definitely a case of last-but-not-least. Our method for assigning tags is simple: if the Handbook mentions the Cathedral of the Transfiguration on the Volga Quay in Ruibinsk (Rybinsk), we assign the "Orthodox churches" tag to Ruibinsk. And so on. You will not be able to tell how many churches there are in Ruibinsk, or what their names are. The tag indicates only that there is at least one Orthodox church in that location. To dig into all of the good meaty details you will need to open up the Handbook.
Is that spelling... right?Yes and no. We retained all spellings of proper names as they are given in the Handbook. These follow the standards established by the Royal Geographical Society, rather than the modern transliteration systems we are used to, but we like the vintage flavor.
Are we telling you everything we know?Not remotely. We allow ourselves to enhance the content of the Handbook only on special occasions (when the Handbook mentions a specific source or we can tie a source directly to the content of the tweetline). The Guidebook texts are fictional musings on an imagined experience. They are not wikipedia-style place histories. They are meant to make you insatiably curious: so curious that you can't help but open up the Handbook to see what it actually says or maybe even do some research yourself.
What if you have questions?Would you like to know more about our method? Are you dying to learn more about a place or theme highlighted by the Guidebook? You can find us on Twitter @ImperiiaProject or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The "last, best" guidebook
When journalist Harrison Salisbury first visited the Soviet Union in 1944, he tucked a copy of what he called “the last, best” guidebook into his gas mask bag. It (the book, not the gas mask) had been published in 1914 in Leipzig by the famous Baedeker publishing house.
When journalist Harrison Salisbury first visited the Soviet Union in 1944, he tucked a copy of what he called “the last, best” guidebook into his gas mask bag. It (the book, not the gas mask) had been published, for the first time in English, in 1914 in Leipzig by the famous Baedeker publishing house.
This is the book.
He was right. If you want to know how the empire looked, sounded, tasted, and smelled on the eve of collapse, this is the book.
He was right.
If you want to know how the empire looked, sounded, tasted, and smelled on the eve of collapse, this is the book.