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RIC History Prof. Pete Brown Devoted to Writing



It was a chance encounter that ignited Rhode Island College history professor Peter Brown’s decision to develop a career devoted to factual happenings.

“One should never underestimate the most seemingly trivial events in one’s life,” Brown, who has taught at RIC since 1988, said, explaining how a 50 cents, second-hand Russian-English dictionary gift from his mother propelled his future professional path toward Russian history.

Brown earned a Bachelor of Arts from Stanford University and a Master’s of Arts and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he wrote his 711-page dissertation on early modern Russian bureaucracy from Ivan III to Peter the Great.  

He hasn’t stopped writing since.

During his time at Rhode Island College, Brown has published five book chapters and 29 articles in various Russian and Eastern European-focused journals in the United States and abroad. He also has presented 65 papers at conferences in the United States, Europe, the former Soviet Union and Russia.  

Brown has been co-editor of editor of 11 volumes of work pertaining to Russian, Soviet and Eurasian history and has been for the last five years president of the Finno-Ugric Studies Association of Canada. Under his direction, the organization’s international membership has tripled in size.

Most recently, in fall 2012, he published a 67-page article, “Muscovite Arithmetic in Seventeenth-Century Russian Civilization: Is It Not Time to Discard the ‘Backwardness’ Label,” in “Russian History.”

He is working now on two manuscripts, hoping to complete “Sources of Stability and Fragility in the Seventeenth-Century Russian Governing Capital Elite” this year. The book, Brown said, is a statistical study of those groups for which he analyzed 5,600 entries and a comparative one by also relating this data and conclusions to other Eurasian countries of this period.

His other book, which he hopes to complete by year’s end, is “The Russian Central Administration Before Peter the Great. An Anthology of Documents,” which is a collection of documents he has translated from Middle Russian that, according to Brown, “portray the evolution of central government and the interface between the Muscovite population and its bureaucracy from the late 1400s until the early 1700s.

Brown’s areas of research are: on Early Modern Russian, Ukrainian and Polish Social, Administrative, Political and Military History; Northern Russia between 800 and 1500; Finno-Ugric Studies; Comparative Medieval and Early Modern European History; Language, Culture and Ethnic Studies; and Soviet and Eastern European Economic History.

Brown is fluent in Russian and Polish and reads in Middle Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, French, Old Church Slavonic and German for research.

As for teaching, he’s hesitant to pinpoint a favorite class.

“The variety of courses I’ve been able to teach has been broad so I’m quite grateful to develop new courses and to teach older ones, all of which I find intellectually and pedagogically nourishing,” Brown said. “My favorite classes are those when I’m able to get the most out of my students and they are able to get the most out of me. I experience that every semester.”