WiP: French Silk in the Early 19th Century Caucasus

CRRC, ARISC and American Councils are proud to present the 6th talk of the Fall 2019 Works-in-Progress Series!

“Cocooned in the Caucasus: Dreams of French Silk at Russia’s Edge, 1820s-1830s”

By Stephen Riegg, Texas A&M University

Date: November 6, 2019, at 18:30 pm
Venue: CRRC Georgia, 1 Liziko Kavtaradze st., 0179 Tbilisi, Georgia

If, in the twilight of the 1800s, oil arose as the coveted “black gold” of the Caucasus, then at the beginning of the century silk held a strong contention to the stature of “white gold.” A Tiflis-based silk company founded in the 1820s by the Frenchman Edouard Castellaz was a bright, yet ephemeral, representation of silk’s economic importance to tsarist officials, local residents, and Russian and Western European investors. This presentation traces the evolution of the Russian approach toward Castellaz’s business in order to elucidate a telling episode of privately driven, state-backed commercial experimentation in the South Caucasus. Castellaz’s pledge to produce exquisite silk in Georgia that rivaled the best sorts from Italy drew the attention of Romanov royals, statesmen, and aristocrats. This dream’s rise and fall can point us toward the array of tools wielded, and occasionally fumbled, by the actors seeking to expand the region’s economy.

Stephen B. Riegg is Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Russia’s Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801-1914, which will appear from Cornell University Press in July 2020.

W-i-P is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the CRRC office at 5 Chkhikvadze Str. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public. The purpose of the W-i-P series is to provide support and productive criticism to those researching and developing academic projects pertaining the Caucasus region.

PRIVACY POLICY: In order to assure the free and open discussion of ideas and sensitive issues, unless otherwise specified the WiP series holds to the Chatham House Rule: participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed, without the explicit permission of said speaker(s) or participant(s) in the press or other public media. Journalists may attend the sessions, but the contents are not for publication or broadcast without the explicit permission of the speaker(s). This is to enable all involved to openly discuss their views in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public and contribute to the broader scholarly and academic conversation.