Breyfogle, Nicholas B. 1968-

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Breyfogle, Nicholas B. 1968-


Born August 14, 1968. Education: Brown University, B.A., 1990; University of Pennsylvania, M.A., 1994, Ph.D., 1998.


Office—Department of History, 230 West 17th Ave., 106 Dulles Hall, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210-1367. E-mail—[email protected]


Historian, educator, writer, and editor. Ohio State University, Columbus, professor of history.


Ohio Academy of History Book Award, 2006, for Heretics and Colonizers.


Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia's Empire in the South Caucasus, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2005.

(Editor, with Abby Schrader and Willard Sunderland) Peopling the Russian Periphery: Borderland Colonization in Eurasian History, Routledge (New York, NY), 2007.

Guest editor of "Russian Religious Sectarianism," a thematic issue of Russian Studies in History, winter, 2007-08; coeditor of online magazine Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective.


Historian Nicholas B. Breyfogle specializes in the history of imperial Russia from about 1700 to 1917. He is especially interested in the history of Russian imperialism and the tsarist empire's non-Russian nationalities. Among his research interests are Russian colonialism and environmental history. In his book Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia's Empire in the South Caucasus, Breyfogle examines the interplay between popular religious culture and Russian colonization of the borderlands of Transcaucasia.

"The multiple dimensions of Russian colonial settlement in the South Caucasus from the decree of 1830 through the years immediately after the Dukhobor uprising of 1895 are the central focus of this book," the author writes in the introduction to Heretics and Colonizers. "In particular, I explore both the role of sectarian colonization in the broader patterns of tsarist empire-building and the peasant migrants' social and cultural experiences in a transformative borderland setting. Colored as they were by their religious dissent, these sectarian colonists were not ‘average’ Russian peasants, and the South Caucasus was a region distinctive in important respects from other tsarist holdings."

In recounting the story of Dukhobors, Molokans, and Subbotniks, all religious sectarians who ended up living in the newly conquered lands, the author sheds light on how Nicholas I of Russia forced many of these people to migrate to the area as part of his plan to rid the Russian Orthodox religion of heresies and also to provide ethnic Slavs as workers for construction projects under the imperial rule. The author begins his book by examining how these peasant migrants not only were forced to move by decree but also moved voluntarily to seek new opportunities, to be with family members who had already moved, and, as noted by Chris J. Chulos on H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, "to follow their curiosity about the new territory." Chulos further noted: "The middle section of the book adeptly treats aspects of sectarian life in their new ‘homeland’ and includes an ambitious consideration of their impact on local ecology."

Drawing from previously unavailable materials, such as letters and memoirs, the author describes how these settlers suffered but eventually became among the most prized Russian colonists of the imperial empire for their model roles in helping to foster the tsarist imperial goals. The author writes: "At crucial moments, the settlers performed a range of military, economic, and administrative functions essential to Russian empire building—sometimes unwittingly. In either case, peasant borderland settlement was not simply corollary of territorial expansion, nor was it solely the product of domestic agrarian concerns. The sectarians who migrated to the South Caucasus also played a decisive role in constructing and constituting Imperial Russia as a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional entity."

Breyfogle ends his book with a look at the Dukhobor pacifist rebellion. As the author points out, the crisis began with the death of a Dukhobor leader, which led to a splintering of this group into two camps that both remained committed to pacifism. Neither group would agree to perform military service, leading to a destruction of weapons by the pacifists and intervention by authorities, which included mistreatment of the Dukhobors. Ultimately, the Dukhobors, who had been a strong component of the tsarist colonial effort, migrated to Canada, leaving an important part of the colonial effort in Russia doomed to failure.

Stephen K. Batalden, writing in Church History, noted of Heretics and Colonizers: "One of the most important contributions of the work is its reconfirmation of the rich documentary record still largely untapped for study of migration and religious movements in Russia. The work utilizes effectively the relevant central state archival repositories of Moscow and St. Petersburg alongside local, regional, and emigré collections in Tbilisi, Ottawa, and Toronto."



Breyfogle, Nicholas B., Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia's Empire in the South Caucasus, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2005.


American Historical Review, October, 2006, Irina Paert, review of Heretics and Colonizers, p. 1284.

Choice, May, 2006, A.V. Isaenko, review of Heretics and Colonizers, p. 1656.

Church History, March, 2007, Stephen K. Batalden, review of Heretics and Colonizers, p. 199.

Russian Review, April, 2006, review of Heretics and Colonizers.

Slavic Review, summer, 2006, Sergei Ivanovitch Zhuk, review of Heretics and Colonizers, p. 374.

Slavonic and East European Review, July, 2006, John Swift, review of Heretics and Colonizers, p. 559.


History at the Ohio State University Web site, (July 20, 2008), faculty profile of author.

H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (September, 2006), Chris J. Chulos, review of Heretics and Colonizers.

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Breyfogle, Nicholas B. 1968-

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