Meehan, Brenda 1942-
MEEHAN, Brenda 1942-
Born March 1, 1942, in New York, NY; daughter of James Ross and Clare (Raleigh) Meehan; children: Megan, Karen. Education: College of New Rochelle, B.A., 1963; Columbia University, M.A., 1965; University of Rochester, Ph.D., 1970.
Office—452 Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627. E-mail—[email protected]
University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, began as assistant professor, now professor emeritus of history and religion, 1972—. Also Hanes-Willis Visiting Professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1997.
American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians.
(As Brenda Meehan-Waters) Autocracy and Aristocracy: The Russian Service Elite of 1730, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1982.
Editorial board member of the Russian Review. Also contributor to journals, including Cross Currents.
Brenda Meehan is a specialist in Russian history with particular interests in the history of women and religion. In her books she has explored major conceptual issues in the development of the Russian state, including absolutism, the influence of Western thought, the rise of the intelligentsia, the position of women in prerevolutionary Russian religious life, and holy women in the Russian religious communities.
In her 1982 publication, Autocracy and Aristocracy: The Russian Service Elite of 1730, Meehan argues that the reforms of Tsar Peter the Great were not designed to replace the traditional aristocracy with a meritocracy, nor to extend political power to foreign military experts. Instead, she asserts, the tsar's policy—a "blend of coercion and preferment"—was intended to modernize the Muscovite aristocracy so that it could more appropriately serve the imperial state. Because Meehan used a vast range of service records (including genealogical works, demographic studies, records of estates, and memoirs), according to Isabel De Madariaga of the Slavonic and East European Review, she "is in a position to substantiate a number of conclusions about the intentions of Peter I that may have been suspected before, but have never been so conclusively demonstrated."
Although James Cracraft sharply criticized Meehan's methodology in a Journal of Modern History review, the work garnered many favorable comments as well. Richard Warner, writing in the Russian Review, for instance, noted that "historians who have been skeptical about the utility of quantitative methods ought to find Autocracy and Aristocracy an enlightening and reassuring book," for the methodology is clear and fully explained in an appendix and "the author has a talent for interpreting her material with logical and succinct generalization." Among the work's enthusiasts was Ronald Suny, who, writing in Comparative Studies in Society and History, called her analysis of the 1730 succession crisis "beautifully explicated," and K. A. Papmehl, who noted in Canadian-Slavonic Papers that she had written "what may well be the most balanced summary of these events available so far." Reviewing Autocracy and Aristocracy for the American Historical Review, Walter Gleason found the author's argument well constructed and supported. He observed that Meehan's study is "a fresh and challenging interpretation of elite politics in eighteenth-century Russia" and called her study a "major work on a major topic with major significance" for a wide range of scholars.
In 1993 Meehan published Holy Women of Russia: The Lives of Five Orthodox Women Offer Spiritual Guidance for Today, a collective biography of five nineteenth-century Russian women who founded Orthodox Catholic monasteries. The women came from different social backgrounds and lived in different areas of the Russian Empire. The drama of each woman's individual struggle for spiritual growth and fulfillment takes place against the background of a little-known institution of nineteenth-century Russian religious life—the privately founded, grassroots women's religious community. The work garnered comments from Russian Review contributor Nadieszda Kizenko, who wrote that those who are seeking to "grapple with theory and its applicability to history, as well as those with interests in religion and gender in late Imperial Russia, will find themselves uniquely rewarded—and provoked—by this stimulating book." In a 1996 review in Sobornost, reprinted at the MaryMartha Web site, Elizabeth Theokritoff noted that Holy Women of Russia "is not straightforward hagiography. It is an unusual blend of hagiography with sociology of a feminist slant. The mixture is sometimes thought-provoking, but sometimes appears distinctly forced to the reader who does not approach the stories with feminist presuppositions—even though the author recognises that some of the terms in which she describes their experiences would be totally alien to the people she is writing about, and makes a clear distinction between narrative and her own commentary." Despite any perceived difficulties, Theokritoff predicted, "The stories as Brenda Meehan presents them will reach many people who would never look at a more conventional saint's life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Meehan-Waters, Brenda, Autocracy and Aristocracy: The Russian Service Elite of 1730, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1982.
American Historical Review, April, 1983, Walter Gleason, review of Autocracy and Aristocracy, pp. 437-438.
Canadian-Slavonic Papers, K. A. Papmehl, 1984, Volume 26, issue 1, review of Autocracy and Aristocracy, pp. 87-88.
Comparative Studies in Society and History, January, 1989, Ronald Suny, review of Autocracy and Aristocracy, pp. 168-179.
Journal of Modern History, September, 1984, James Cracraft, review of Autocracy and Aristocracy, pp. 5, 68-70.
Russian History, 1996, Volume 23, issues 1-4, Elizabeth Zelensky, review of Autocracy and Aristocracy, pp. 389-390.
Russian Review, 1983, Volume 42, issue 1, Richard Warner, review of Autocracy and Aristocracy, pp. 104-105; 1998, Volume 52, issue 2, Nadieszda Kizenko, review of Holy Women of Russia: The Lives of Five Orthodox Women Offer Spiritual Guidance for Today, pp. 297-298.
Slavonic and East European Review, 1985, Volume 63, issue 2, Isabel De Madariga, review of Autocracy and Aristocracy, pp. 297-300.
Sobornost, 1994, Volume 16, issue 2, Elizabeth Theokritoff, review of Holy Women of Russia, pp. 88-90.
MaryMartha, http://members.iinet.net.au/~mmjournl/HOMEPAGE.html/ (September 16, 2004), reprint of Elizabeth Theokritoff, review of Holy Women of Russia.
University of Rochester Web site,http://www.rochester.edu/ (September 16, 2004), author profile.*