The Most Successful Trading Hub in Late Imperial Russia: Using Historical GIS to Map Riga as a Global Port City




In the first decade of the twentieth century, Riga became imperial Russia’s most successful trading hub in terms of sales volume. This concluded a development which began in the 1860s with the rapid expansion of Russia’s railroad network, the rise of supplies of agricultural products, and the increase of Riga’s trade contacts on a global scale. This article uses historical GIS to display the agglomeration of trade contacts on the supplier side, i.e. central Russia, and the rising demand in Western Europe, the Americas, and Australia. The article’s GIS visualizations allow the study of Riga’s development into a global trading hub and the city’s increased industrialization. The article argues that the sharp increase of sales volume was due to two developments: Riga’s successful expansion of exports, including new products such as eggs and butter, and a rise of imports due to the increased need of various raw materials for Riga’s native industry. The article also uses GIS to demonstrate the variety of ethnic backgrounds of Riga’s business owners, which included Baltic Germans, Jews, Latvians, Russians, and Poles. A micro-study of Riga’s biggest industry at the time, the rubber-processing factory “Provodnik,” concludes the argument underlining the incorporation of Riga into the global trade network prior to World War I.

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