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Collection Meeting of Frontiers

Mutual Perceptions

This essay was published in 2000 as part of the original Meeting of Frontiers website.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Russia and America became aware that they had much in common as continental powers with great potential in their frontiers. Some Americans traveled to Siberia for frontier or arctic exploration. Russia sent Grand Duke Alexis, a member of the royal family, to America--the most distinguished visitor up to that time--to go buffalo hunting with Custer and Buffalo Bill.

American writers dreamed of American-style economic development in Siberia. Russian literature on Siberia took inspiration from the literature of the American West. Comparisons between the two frontiers were abundant, and not always positive.

By the late nineteenth century, for many Americans Siberia had come to stand for penal servitude and tsarist oppression. Some Russians saw the American West as a land of disorder and Indian suffering. The Cold War only heightened such divisions. But fascination with each other's frontier persisted, and today the regions stand poised for a new era of understanding and cooperation.