About the Translation

Genesis of the Translation Project

In the mid-nineties, I happened to read Karamzin’s Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia. A Translation and Analysis, by Richard Pipes (Cambridge, Harvard University, 1959). I found it fascinating: it gave a powerful insight into what Republicans are up to, among other things. I was aware that Karamzin had written a classic multi-volume history of Russia around 1820; I was eager to read it, but was unable to find an English translation. There the matter rested untilJanuary 2005, when I was on a tour of Moscow, St. Petersburg and environs, attempting to appreciate the full glory of a Russian winter. Our bus was lurching over icy roads a couple of hours east of Moscow and I happened to be sitting next to a professor of Russian. We hit it off from the start. I told her of my interest in Karamzin, that I had taken two years of Russian at Reed College a long, long time ago, and that as I had recently dropped out of graduate physics for the second time in forty years, I was a bit at loose ends. She had the temerity to suggest I might set myself the task of reading Karamzin’s History in Russian. At first I thought she was out of her rabbit-ass mind, but the idea slowly grew on me, like some kind of internal fungus. When I got home I verified that in 180 years, the classic History of the Russian State had never been translated into English. This struck me then, and still does, as a deeply deplorable state of affairs. I estimated that for about twice the (very large) effort of reading the History, I could produce a translation. I would then have, instead of merely a bent brain, “a treasure for all time,” as Thucydides puts it. I managed to buy a slightly used set of volumes on the Internet; initial attempts to translate parts of it went much better than I had any right to expect, and I settled into a systematic routine. By July 2011 I had a second draft of the entire work. My translation strives for accuracy, but places a very high premium on readability. About half of Karamzin’s text is endnotes, which I have not translated: to do a proper job with these notes, which are properly addressed to academic specialists, would require truly exceptional credentials in the field. The text proper, on the other hand, is intended as a popular work.