Professor Janet Hartley

Professor Janet Hartley

Emeritus Professor

Department of International History

Room No
Key Expertise
18th- and 19th-Century Russia

About me

I have been studying and teaching Russian history for about thirty five years. I have written six books and many articles and chapters in books. My most recent book (published in 2021) is a history of the Volga river, from the seventh century to the present day, entitled The Volga. A History of Russia's Greatest River.

Why do I find Russian history so interesting? It is partly because there is simply less known about Russia in my period than about some other countries, from how things worked in practice to how people thought. At a simple level, history is a story – and I wanted to tell the story of Russia. For Siberia, I particularly wanted to show ‘how people lived’ – how the settlers adapted to the challenges of climate and great distances but also how they interacted with the indigenous peoples of Siberia who already lived in the lands they colonised.

But there also some features of Russian history which I think are special. First, the history of Russia is both very different from that of the West and yet it shares many of its characteristics, and that is a theme which runs from the seventeenth century to the present. Russia is different in its social structure, in its political structure, and in its spiritual development. And yet it is not alien from Europe either: it is predominantly Christian and shares much of European cultural and intellectual development. Second,  the Russian empire, with many of the characteristics  which we might regard as “backward” – economic, political, social, intellectual – became one of the Great Powers of Europe in the eighteenth century. How Russia achieved that, and at what price, has also been one of my main academic interests.

Those big issues have dominated my writings on Russia. I have written a Social History of Russia 1650-1825 and several articles which  looked at Russian society, at its special characteristics and the ways it differed from the ‘West’. Serfdom is the  obvious institution which was distinctive in Russia. But I have also looked at the ‘service’ nobility, at urban society, which was far less important than in Western and central Europe, and at groups of military servitors, such as Cossacks, which have no exact equivalent in other countries. In my book on Siberia; a History of the People I have tried to assess to what extent Siberia – in its social structure, economic development and cultural and intellectual life - was different from European Russia.

I have also been concerned with Russia’s rise to Great-Power status. I have written a biography of a British diplomat Charles Whitworth  who witnessed of Russia’s rise to power in the Baltic in the reign of Peter I. When Whitworth arrived in Moscow in 1705, Russia was a second-rate power, and her only importance to Britain was as a source of naval supplies. By the end of Whitworth’s career, as a result of  the Great Northern War, Russia was a formidable power and rival in the Baltic sea. I also looked at this theme in my biography of Alexander I. Abroad, Russia became the dominant military power on the continent of Europe with the defeat of Napoleon. Domestically, however, Russia stagnated so that its political and social structure seemed to be behind the rest of Europe by 1825 – in particular, in the lack of constitutional constraints on the tsar and in the existence of serfdom. I then developed this theme further in a book entitled Russia 1762-1825: Military Power, the State and the People. The main theme of this book was how could Russia, with its traditional economic political and social structures, beat the most modern military nation on earth, that is, Napoleonic France? A second, related, theme was the cost for state and society of the vast commitment by the government to military, and naval, success.

Professor Hartley is a Board Member of The Paulsen Programme at LSE, hosted by the Department of International History.

She was Head of Department from 2015 to 2017 and she retired in August 2019.

Expertise Details

18th- and 19th-Century Russia

Teaching & supervision

My academic interests are not only central to my published work but also inform my teaching on Russian history, the Napoleonic Empire and the history of the early modern Europe.

In the department, I used to teach the following undergraduate courses:

HY118: Faith, Power and Revolution: Europe and the Wide World c. 1500-1800 (taught jointly with other members of the Department)

HY221: The History of Russia, 1689-1825

Watch Professor Janet Hartley talk about her HY221 course, how it is structured and how students can benefit from taking it in order to better understand the world we live in today.



Professor Hartley's books include:

  • The Study of Russian History from British Archive Sources (editor) (1986)
  • Guide to Documents and Manuscripts in the United Kingdom relating to Russia and the Soviet Union (1987)
  • Russia in the Age of the Enlightenment (editor with R. Bartlett), (1990)
  • Alexander I (1994)
  • Finland and Poland in the Russian Empire: A Comparative Study (editor with M. Branch) (1995)
  • Britain and Russia in the Age of Peter the Great (editor with M. Anderson et al) (1998)
  • A Social History of the Russian Empire 1650-1825 (1999)
  • Charles Whitworth: Diplomat in the Age of Peter the Great (2002)
  • Russia-1762-1815: Military Power, the State and the People (Greenwood Press, 2008)
  • Russian History and Literature in the Eighteenth Century (editor), includes a piece by her on ‘The Army and Prisoners’ (2013)
  • Siberia: a History of the People (2014) 
  • Russia and the Napoleonic Wars, edited with Paul Keenan and Dominic Lieven (2015)
  • The Volga: A History of Russia’s Greatest River (2021)
  • Magic, Text and Travel: Homage to a Scholar, Will Ryan, edited with Denis J. B. Shaw (2021)
  • The Volga: the River as Frontier,  Annual Lecture 2021, The Hakluyt Society, London, 2021


Articles and chapters

Professor Hartley has written many articles and chapters on Russian history and Anglo Russian relations, in English and in Russian. Recent publications include:

  • 'Veterans and Empire: A Comparison of British and Russian Treatment of Veterans in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries', Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 100 (2022), 14-31.
  • 'Governing the City: St Petersburg and Catherine II's Reforms' in A. Cross (ed.), St Petersburg, 1703-1825, (Palgrave: Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2003), pp. 99-118.
  • 'Russia and Napoleon: State, Society and the Nation' in M. Rowe (ed.), State Formation and Resistance in Napoleonic Europe (Palgrave, London, 2003).
  • 'A Clash of Cultures? An Anglo-Russian Encounter in the Early Eighteenth Century', in R. Bartlett, L. Hughes (eds), Russian Society and Culture and the Long Eighteenth Century (Lit Verlag, Munster, 2004), pp. 48-61.
  • ‘Napoleonic Prisoners in Russia’, in N. Iu. Erpyleva, M. E. Gashi-Butler (eds), Forging a Common Legal Destiny: Liber Amicorum in Honour of William E. Butler, London, 2005, pp. 714-26
  • ‘The Patriotism of the Russian Army in the “Patriotic” or “Fatherland War of 1812’ in C. J. Esdaile (ed), Popular Resistance in the French Wars: Patriots, Partisans and Land Pirates, Palgrave, 2005, pp. 181-200
  • ‘Provincial and Local Government’ in D. Lieven (ed), The Cambridge History of Russia, vol. 2, Imperial Russia 1689-1917, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 449-67
  • ‘Gizhiga: Military Presence and Social Encounters in Russia’s Wild East’, Slavonic and East European Review, 86, 2008, pp. 665-84
  • ‘Russia as a Fiscal-Military State’, in C. Storrs (ed), The Rise of the Fiscal-Military State in Eighteenth-Century Europe: Essays in Honour of P.G.M. Dickson, Ashgate, 2009, pp. 125-146
  • 'Poltavskaia bitva i anglo-rossiiskie otnosheniia' [The Battle of Poltava and Anglo-Russian relations' in Voprosy istorii i kul'tury severnkh stran i territorii no. 3, 2009, pp. 27-44.
  • ‘The Russian Empire: Military Encounters and National Identity’, in R. Bessel, N. Guyatt, J. Redall (eds), War, Empire and Slavery, 1770-1830, Palgrave, 2010, pp. 218-34.
  • ‘Russia as a Great Military Power’, in Frederick C. Schneid, The Projection and Limitations of Imperial Powers, 1618-1850, Leiden, Brill, 2012, 105-21. 
  • ‘”A Land of Limitless Possibilities”: British Commerce and Trade in Siberia in the Early Twentieth Century’, Sibirica, 13, 3, 2014, 1-21.
  • ‘The Russian Army’ in Frederick C. Schneid, ed., European Armies of the French Revolution 1789-1802, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2015, 86-10-6.
  • ‘Slaves and Spouses: Russian Settlers and Non-Russians in Siberia’, in E. Waegemans, H. von Konigsbrugge, M. levitt, A Century Mad and Wise: Russia in the Age of Enlightenment, Gronigen, 2015, 247-60.
  • ‘Education and the East: the Omsk Asiatic School’, in Maria di Salvo, Daniel H. Kaiser, Valerie A. Kivelson, eds, Word and Image in Russian History, Boston, academic Studies Press, 2015, 253-68.
  • ‘War, Economy and Utopianism: Russia after the Napoleonic Era’, in Alan Forrest, Karen Hagemann, Michael Rowe, eds, War, Demobilization and Memory, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2016, 84-99.


News & media


YouTube recording of Taming the Volga: Imperial Policies to Control Nature, People and Beliefs lecture 

Janet Hartley gave a Mosse lecture at Humboldt University of Berlin on 24 June in the series Welt im Fluss. Titled 'Taming the Volga: Imperial Policies to Control Nature, People and Beliefs'. 


New Article in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research

In her latest article, Professor Hartley discusses ways in which Britain and Russia approached controlling and caring for veterans, and the extent to which they were successful. This comparision illustrates the different constraints under which both countries operated and how both Britain and Russia also regarded former soldiers as a useful resource for the maintenance of law and order. 


The Volga FT's Summer Book of 2021 and History Book of the Year

Professor Hartley's latest manuscript was named one of the Summer Books of 2021 in History by the Financial Times on 23 June and was selected as one of the Best Books of 2021 in the History category by the same publication in November. Tony Barber says "Hartley’s study of the Volga, the river that symbolises Russian identity, is a worthy companion to her 2014 book Siberia: A History of the People. She is particularly good on the way that Russians and non-Russians interacted in the centuries after Ivan the Terrible’s conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan in the 1550s."


New edited volume: Magic, Texts and Travel

Co-edited with Dr Dennis Shaw (Birmingham), Magic, Texts and Travel: Homage to a Scholar, Will Ryan (Study Group for Eighteenth-Century Russia, 2021) focuses on the three themes of magic, text, and travel in relation to Russia and other Slavonic regions. Read more


New book: The Volga

A new book with Yale University Press, The Volga. A History of Russia's Greatest River was released in January. The Volga River has played a crucial role in the history of the peoples who are now a part of the Russian Federation – and has united and divided the land through which it flows. Professor Hartley explores the history of Russia through the Volga from the seventh century to the present day. Find out more about the book. Read the reviews in Le Grand Continent (31 December 2020, "15 livres à lire en janvier 2021"), The Spectator (16 January), The Geographical (February, "Book of the Month"), The Economist (20 January), the Financial Times (11 February), History Today (March), Literary Review (April) and The Times Literary Supplement (23 April). Professor Hartley was also interviewed about the book in the Asian Review Podcast in collaboration with New Books Network (March 2021). Listen to the interview.

The book launch took place on 9 February and was hosted by the Higher School of Economics (Moscow).


Opening lecture at Kazan Federal University

Professor Hartley gave the opening lecture in the “Alexander Festival” at Kazan Federal University on 28 November and participated in the unveiling of a new bust of Alexander I. The festival was held in honour of the founder of the university, Alexander I. Professor Hartley’s lecture was on “The Tsars in London: the Visits of Peter I and Alexander I”.



BBC Radio 4 In Our Time

On 19 September, Professor Hartley participated in an episode of Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 In Our Time. Alongside Dr Michael Rowe (KCL) and Dr Michael Rapport (Glasgow), she discussed why Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, thought he was victorious yet had to retreat, losing most of his army and, soon after, his empire. Catch up with the episode, “Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow”, on BBCiPlayer.


Yale University

From 11-12 April, Professor Hartley participated in the Russian Grand Strategy in Historical Perspective Workshop at Yale University. The workshop was hosted by the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy and Professor Hartley presented a paper on “Imperial Russian and European Great Power Status”.


Irish radio "Newstalk"

Professor Hartley was part of a panel of experts on "Talking History" who discussed the history and transformation of St. Petersburg from Peter the Great's custom-built capital in 1703 to the artistic capital it remains today. Listen to "An Artistic Capital Built on Bones", first aired on 25 November.


Professor Janet Hartley and Professor Hamish Scott on late Professor Isabel Margaret de Madariaga

Professor Janet Hartley and Professor Hamish Scott, former member of the Department, have written a memoir of Professor Isabel de Madariaga (1919-2014) for the British Academy’s “Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy XV” (September 2016). Professor Madariaga had connections with the Department and LSE as a temporary lecturer. In their piece, Professor Hartley and Professor Scott provide a fascinating account of a world that has vanished and salute Professor Madariaga has the last of a generation.


LSE Excellence in Education Awards

In June 2016, Professor Janet Hartley won an LSE Excellence in Education Award with other members of the Department. Designed to support the School’s aspiration of creating ‘a culture where excellence in teaching is valued and rewarded on a level with excellence in research’ (LSE Strategy 2020), the Excellence in Education Awards are made, on the recommendations of Heads of Department, to staff who have demonstrated outstanding teaching contribution and educational leadership in their departments.


Channel One Russia Documentary "The Crimean War"

Professor Janet Hartley has participated in a historical documentary called “The Crimean War”. The latter was shown on Channel One Russia recently and it focuses particularly on the diplomatic and international context of the war. It includes contributions from French and Austrian academics as well as Russian historians. Professor Janet Hartley appears between minutes 20 and 30 and comments on the diplomatic causes and consequences of the War. Watch "The Crimean War" (in Russian).



BBC Four

Professor Janet Hartley appeared in the first two episodes of the BBC Four programme, Empire of the Tsars: Romanov Russia with Lucy Worsley. The first episode aired on 6 January 2016 and the second episode aired a week later. Watch the trailer. Read more about Empire of the Tsars.



Spectator's Review of Siberia, a History of the People

On 16 August 2014, the Spectator published a review on Professor Janet Hartley's latest book, Siberia, a History of the People, written by Will Nicoll. He calls it a "masterful study of Siberia's people". He goes on to say that "Hartley’s skill lies in her ability to make historical events vivid and accessible" and that her book will "be particularly useful to a generation of young Siberians, eager to understand their wild region’s extraordinary past".


Siberia, a History of the People Reviewed by the Sunday Times

On 20 July 2014, the Sunday Times published a review on Professor Janet Hartley's latest book, Siberia, a History of the People, calling the volume "a deft history", a "beautifully chosen and told compendium of life stories". Read the full review.