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Barbara Emerson’s new book on The First Cold War is being published by Hurst in May This provides a comprehensive history of Russo-British relations from the time of Peter the Great to the pre-World War I Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia. This is an important book which contains fresh insights into the Russo-British relationship in the 19th century and its publication is very timely. We are most grateful to Barbara for agreeing to talk to the Society about it.

The First Cold War describes how Britain and Russia maintained a frosty civility for a few years after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 but how, by the 1820s, their relations degenerated into constant acrimonious competition and rivalry over Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Central Asia—the ‘Great Game’—and, towards the end of the century, East Asia. In her talk Barbara will explore these developments and outline the key features of the Russo-British relationship throughout the 19th century, which was marked by continuous competition and tension. Not until Britain and Russia recognised that they had more to fear from Wilhelmine Germany did they largely set aside their rivalries in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which also had major repercussions for the balance of power in Europe.

The book also presents the Russian perspective on the Great Game, drawing on the archives of the Tsars’ Imperial Ministry, and in her talk Barbara will outline the key elements in this. Both world powers became convinced of the expansionist aims of the other, and considered these to be at their own expense. When one was successful, the other upped the ante, and so it went on. London and St Petersburg were at war only once, during the Crimean War (1854-1856). But Russophobia and Anglophobia became ingrained on each side, as these two great empires hovered on the brink of hostilities for nearly 100 years.

Copies of The First Cold War will be available for sale at KCL.

Barbara Emerson is a long-standing member of the Society and has been Vice-Chairman since 2019. She has written three biographies and numerous articles. Barbara received her MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford, where she was subsequently a visiting fellow. She was also a faculty associate at Harvard University. Barbara lived in Moscow in 1990s and travelled extensively in the former Soviet Union, including Central Asia.

At this event

Tanya Linaker

Team Leader for Slavic and Middle Eastern Languages

Event details

Language Resource Centre K-1.072
King's Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS

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