Dr Alexander Morrison

Russian Rule in Samarkand 1868 – 1910

Russian Rule in Samarkand 1868 – 1910. A Comparison with British India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)


Russian Rule in Samarkand examines the structures, personnel, and ideologies of Russian imperialism in Turkestan, taking Samarkand and the surrounding region as a case-study. The creation of a colonial administration in Central Asia presented Russia with similar problems to those faced by the British in India, but different approaches to governance meant that the two regimes often stood in stark contrast to one another. While the Russian administration was characterised by corruption and inefficiency, British rule in India was often more violent, and its subjects much more heavily taxed.

Opening with the background to the political situation in Central Asia and a narrative of the Russian conquest itself, the book moves on to analyse official attitudes to Islam and to pre-colonial elites, and the earliest attempts to establish a functioning system of revenue collection. Uncovering the religious and ethnic composition of the military bureaucracy, and the social background, education and training of its personnel, Alexander Morrison assesses the competence of these officers vis-à-vis their Anglo-Indian counterparts. Subsequent chapters look at the role of the so-called 'native administration' in governing the countryside and collecting taxes, the attempt to administer the complex systems of irrigation leading from the Zarafshan and Syr-Darya rivers, and the nature and functions of the Islamic judiciary under colonial rule.

Based on extensive archival research in Russia, India, and Uzbekistan, Russian Rule in Samarkand is an original contribution to the history of the Russian Empire, and of and European Imperialism.

‘Infantry of the Orenburg Line Battalions in winter garb on the Russian expedition to Khiva in 1839-40.’

‘Infantry of the Orenburg Line Battalions in winter garb on the Russian expedition to Khiva in 1839-40.’

  • Russian Military History
  • Russian Colonialism
  • History of Central Asia

Much of my research to date has concentrated on understanding the nuts and bolts of how Russian imperial rule functioned (or failed to do so) in 19th and early 20th-century Central Asia, which is best described as  the political and administrative history of Russian colonialism. In Russian Central Asia this means a considerable focus on the social background and institutional culture of the military, who administered the region. I also interested in the ways in which the local population engaged with, exploited and suffered from these new structures of power, and in Russian imperial ideologies.

I am currently completing a History of the Russian Conquest of Central Asia in which I seek to avoid the grand narrative of the 'Great Game' and return the British in India to the margins of the story, where they belong. Instead I will focus on the processes of decision-making which prompted the Russian advances, their entanglement with the politics of the steppe and of the Central Asian khanates, the logistical challenges of Inner Asian warfare and (to some extent) the local response, at least as far as this is revealed in Persian-language chronicles. British and Anglo-Indian sources and perspectives will only feature on the rare occasions where they were relevant or well-informed. Instead my book, though a series of micro-historical studies of the different phases of the advance, will place Central Asia itself at the heart of the narrative.

Future research projects include a comparative history of Semirechie as  Russian settler colony, an exploration of the literary culture of the Russian Imperial officer corps, a study of Soviet novels and films about the ‘Basmachi’ rebellion in Central Asia in 1917 – 1924,  and a microhistorical biography of General Alexei Nikolaevich Kuropatkin (1848-1925).


  • The Central Asian Revolt of 1916.

  • Convicts and Concentration Camps

  • The ‘Turkestan generals’ and russian military history

  • On Dunganskaya Street. Vernyi Town as a “Plural Society”

  • The archives talk-Paolo Sartori’s contribution to the history of central Asia

  • More


I would like to hear from potential DPhil students regarding European Military History; History of the Russian Empire; Imperial  & Colonial History; Central Asian History          .

I currently teach:

Prelims: FHS:

Approaches to History

General History XI: 1789-1871

General History IV: 1815-1914 (Society, Nation, and Empire). 

General History XII: 1856-1914

Foreign Texts: Trotsky

General History XIII: Europe Divided, 1914-1989
  General History XIV: The Global Twentieth Century, 1930-2003
  General History XVIII: Eurasian Empires 1450-1800 

General History XIX: Imperial and Global History, 1750-1914.


FS 23: Imperialism and Nationalism, 1830-1980 


FS27: A Comparative History of the First World War, 1914-20 


FS29: The Soviet Union, 1924-41 

  SS 21: Terror and Forced Labour in Stalin’s Russia
  SS 22: From Gandhi to the Green Revolution: India, Independence and Modernity 1947-73

 ‘Russian Beyond Russia’ eurasianet.org 20/04/2017 (http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83296)

‘Stalin’s Giant Pencil: Debunking a Myth About Central Asia’s Borders’ eurasianet.org 13/02/2017 (http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82376)

‘Russia’s Colonial Allergy’ eurasianet.org 19/12/2016 (http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81726)

 ‘Central Asia: Interpreting and Remembering the 1916 Revolt’ eurasianet.org 19/10/2016 (http://www.eurasianet.org/node/80931).

BBC World Service - Witness, 1916: Central Asia Rebels Against the Russian Empire 14/07/2016 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p040p1bh)

with Berny Sèbe, University of Birmingham: ‘Empires of Emptiness: fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe’ Photographic exhibition, University of Birmingham 15/02/2016 – 15/05/2016 & Jackfield Tile Museum, Ironbridge, 23/05/2016 – 17/12/2016





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