How St. Petersburg Learned to Study Itself
The Russian Idea of Kraevedenie
Emily D. Johnson
How St. Petersburg Learned to Study Itself
The Russian Idea of Kraevedenie
Emily D. Johnson
“Johnson’s book provides a fascinating view of the cultural movements that developed in the early part of the twentieth century in St. Petersburg. As such, it is an important contribution to the growing number of recent works on the city.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
Winner of the 2007 South Central MLA Book Prize Winner of the 2007 Nikolai Antsiferov Prize for Best Contribution to the Study of St. Petersburg by a foreign author
Kraevedenie (local studies) is a disciplinary tradition that in Russia dates back to the early twentieth century. Practitioners of kraevedenie investigate local areas, study the ways human society and the environment affect each other, and decipher the semiotics of space. They deconstruct urban myths, analyze the conventions governing the depiction of specific regions and towns in works of art and literature, and dissect both outsider and insider perceptions of local population groups. Practitioners of kraevedenie helped develop and popularize the Russian guidebook as a literary form.
Johnson traces the history of kraevedenie, showing how St. Petersburg–based scholars and institutions have played a central role in the evolution of the discipline. Distinguished from obvious Western equivalents such as cultural geography and the German Heimatkunde by both its dramatic history and unique social significance, kraevedenie has, for close to a hundred years, served as a key forum for expressing concepts of regional and national identity within Russian culture.
How St. Petersburg Learned to Study Itself is published in collaboration with the Harriman Institute at Columbia University as part of its Studies of the Harriman Institute series.
“Johnson’s book provides a fascinating view of the cultural movements that developed in the early part of the twentieth century in St. Petersburg. As such, it is an important contribution to the growing number of recent works on the city.”
“Emily Johnson’s book is cogently written and very well researched; it deserves a wide readership not only in Russian studies but in comparative European studies as well. Her broad intellectual curiosity, focused through the lens of St. Petersburg’s cultural history, is both impressive and exemplary. This interdisciplinary study will have a wide resonance among those interested in local history, literary and cultural studies, and the history of nontraditional education.”
“Johnson's scholarship is meticulous, and, in emphasizing the literary foundations of kraevedenie, her monograph will appeal to scholars of Russian literature and culture, as well as those interested in the complex and tortuous evolution of Russian civil society.”
Emily Johnson is Assistant Professor of Russian Language, Literature, and Culture at the University of Oklahoma.
List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
A Note on Transliteration and Translations
List of Abbreviations
Introduction Ways of Knowing: Russian Local Studies as an Identity Discipline
1. The Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Tradition
2. The Art Journals of the Silver Age, St. Petersburg Preservationism, and the Guidebook
3. Old Petersburg After the Revolution
4. The Excursion Movement and Excursion Methodology
5. Excursion Primers and Literary Tours
6. Kraevedenie in St. Petersburg
7. Literary Kraevedenie
Ways of Knowing: Russian Local Studies as an Identity Discipline
Disciplines are cultural constructs. They arise in specific places at particular moments in time, and they either flourish or fade depending on the extent to which they are perceived as intellectually viable, useful, fashionable, and/or compatible with the needs and aspirations of influential social groups. Like styles of music, trends in fashion, and political theories, disciplines can be exported. They can cross boundaries, spreading from their culture of origin to other countries and continents. Sometimes disciplines change substantially when placed in new surroundings: their aims, boundaries, and theoretical underpinnings, the basic vocabulary employed by practitioners, can all evolve in response to local conditions. Often, however, disciplines may seem, at least superficially, to pass unaltered from one culture to the next.
Strong nations and empires, unsurprisingly, export academic disciplines more successfully than weaker states. In recent decades environmental engineering, gender studies, and ethnic studies, emerging disciplines that enjoy significant popularity in Western Europe and the United States, have all begun to gain ground in other areas of the globe. Leading universities in countries as far-flung as Argentina, Uganda, Slovenia, and Yemen regularly issue promotional material filled with references to new academic units, programs, and courses that, to a contemporary American educator, may well sound familiar. The similarities are at times so striking that one might reasonably presume that, thanks to modern tools of communication and Western economic and cultural dominance, a single homogeneous system for the organization and classification of approaches to learning has taken hold throughout the world and that regional trends in the composition of intellectual life that originate outside the great democracies of the West are of little real significance.
However, despite the unquestionable influence of Western universities, scientific societies, and grant-giving agencies, substantial diversity continues to exist in the organization of learning and scholarship. Disciplines that are largely or entirely unknown in the United States flourish in other areas of the globe. They can easily escape the notice of American academics, because they do not fit into our system of disciplinary classification: no words exist for them in the English language; they overlap with and yet do not entirely coincide with accepted Western fields of specialization; to us they seem sometimes like one thing and sometimes like another, but never distinct and important in and of themselves. As a result, American specialists tend to translate foreign disciplinary terms either reductively or situationally. In the first case, they render the name of a foreign discipline in English literally and then, noting that it sounds roughly equivalent to one of its well-known Western counterparts, assume, without regard to coverage or methodology, that the two approaches to learning are essentially identical. In the second case, they ignore the existence of the unfamiliar category entirely and reclassify individual works of scholarship in the foreign discipline according to Western norms: they might label some pieces as history, identify others as political science, and list a third group under cultural anthropology. The set as such disappears, leaving in its place only disparate items. Both reductive and situational translations of foreign disciplinary terms tend to reinforce our cultural blindness; false equations and hastily conceived comparisons reduce our already limited ability to perceive unfamiliar categories and structures.
Should our disregard for foreign disciplines concern us? Are categories and labels at all important or is it just individual works of scholarship that matter? In this age of interdisciplinary studies, it would be foolish to regard the lines that divide fields of specialization as inherently fixed or impermeable, but does that mean that disciplines as such are wholly irrelevant? I would argue no: the ways in which human beings organize scholarship, the categories and approaches developed in various parts of the globe, deserve our attention. By studying them we can learn a great deal about ourselves and our neighbors, about what is constant and immutable in the universal quest for knowledge, and about what varies according to the culture and the age.
This book focuses on a disciplinary tradition that will be unfamiliar to most Americans and to many Western Europeans: the system of inquiry that in Russian is called kraevedenie. Best translated into English as regional or, perhaps, local studies (krai, region or local administrative district, and vedenie, study or knowledge of), this field took shape in central Russia in the early twentieth century, combining elements drawn from a variety of domestic and foreign antecedents. As it developed, kraevedenie grew and changed in response to local historical conditions, acquiring, over time, functions, a theoretical base, and social significance render it distinct from all obvious precursors. Popular from the beginning, kraevedenie rapidly spread throughout Soviet territory and, in the decades following World War II, even played a certain role in some of the U.S.S.R.’s Eastern European satellites. Following the collapse of communism, kraevedenie appears to have ceased expanding geographically, but it remains a vibrant and important force throughout the former Soviet Union. In Russia, in particular, it has flourished in recent years, in no way overshadowed or diminished by recently imported Western disciplines and modes of thinking. Since the early 1990s, Russia has seen—in addition to the creation of new departments, centers, and schools of gender studies, public relations, and marketing—a significant increase in the number of academic units and institutions devoted to kraevedenie.
What exactly is kraevedenie? Contemporary Russian lexicographers generally define the term as “the study of the natural environment, population, economy, history, or culture of some part of a country, such as an administrative or natural region, or a place of settlement.” As such a definition implies, kraevedenie represents a synthetic field that draws upon the methodological and theoretical legacies of various scholarly traditions. In it, approaches, terminology, and tools typical of fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, history, art history, economics, and soil science are brought together to produce a new holistic science of place. Kraevedy (practitioners of kraevedenie) investigate and describe both natural and man-made landscapes, study the ways in which human society and the environment affect each other, and decipher the semiotics of space. They deconstruct local myths, analyze the conventions governing the depiction of specific regions and towns in works of art and literature, and dissect both outsider and insider perceptions of local population groups. The notion that people are shaped and defined by the environment in which they live is fundamental to modern kraevedenie. Kraevedy believe that geographic factors play an active role both in human history at large and in the lives of individual men and women. They maintain that long-term residence in a specific town or region—exposure to a particular aesthetic and social environment, to a certain set of symbols, myths, stereotypes, and historical conceptions—can influence our options, choices, points-of-view, and to some extent even our character. For this reason, kraevedy tend to see the exploration of geographic space as a means of studying human consciousness and culture.
In terms of the range of issues it explores, one might perhaps reasonably compare kraevedenie to modern human geography. Structurally, however, the two disciplines differ in a number of significant respects. Most important, while geographers investigate both large and small units of territory and explore places both close to and distant from their own personal experiences, kraevedy almost invariably study discrete localities (cities, parishes, administrative regions) in which they have at one time lived or that are in some other way associated with family history, such as a long-lost patrimony or the site of a parent’s death. It is highly unusual for kraevedy to write about places to which they have no clear personal connection. As lexicographers struggling to define kraevedenie sometimes acknowledge, “for the most part” this form of research represents the work of individuals who could under some rubric be classified as “local inhabitants.”
In this respect, kraevedenie closely resembles German Heimatkunde (literally: homeland studies), a tradition of loc
al activism and regional geographic inquiry to which it owes a particularly obvious debt of inspiration and from which it might in a limited sense even be said to have derived. As I will explain in more detail later in this manuscript, the word kraevedenie entered the Russian language at the beginning of the twentieth century as one of three possible translations of Heimatkunde. Significantly less popular than the competing calques rodinovedenie (motherland studies) and stranovedenie (country studies), kraevedenie appeared in Russian publications only sporadically until the 1920s, at which time it became associated with an emerging network of provincial scientific societies that was loosely affiliated with the Academy of Sciences. Over the course of the next several decades, definitions of kraevedenie gradually expanded to include other institutions and the forms of regional scholarship that they practiced. In the process, the resemblance of this mode of inquiry to Heimatkunde significantly decreased. Compared to its German predecessor, kraevedenie became less exclusively provincial in character, and it gained new academic pretensions and ambitions. However, most researchers continued, even as Russian local studies to some extent professionalized, to investigate the areas in which they lived or to which they felt a personal connection. They explored landscapes that they believed had shaped their own characters and, thereby, in investigating space also worked to define the self.
Like Heimatkunde and, for that matter, gender studies, gay and lesbian studies, and various forms of ethnic studies in the United States, kraevedenie might reasonably be described as an “identity discipline.” By this I mean a field dominated by scholars who strongly identify with the subject of their scholarship, perceiving it as “self” rather than “other.” In such areas of specialization, the distinction between researcher and researched remains blurred at best. Historically and culturally contingent notions of identity often function as key determinants of disciplinary boundaries, and investigators frequently view their academic activities as part of a larger quest for certain political and social rights, the rectification of past injustices, self-fulfillment, self-awareness, and protection from oppression. As a result, scholarship can easily merge with activism.
Scholars interested in the problem of disciplinarity often argue that identity fields do not constitute real disciplines at all. They note that such areas of specialization are marred by too much subjectivism and lack real cohesion. What, critics sometimes charge, do all the practitioners of women’s studies have in common except that they work on projects that in some way involve women or notions of femaleness? They do not necessarily share the same training or even hold the same degrees; they may have vastly different interests and methodological biases. Perhaps all this to some extent represents a valid point, but it seems worth noting that the same kinds of criticism can also be leveled at a host of more traditional fields of specialization. If intellectual coherence represents the primary measure of disciplinarity, then how many areas meet the standard? Does English? Would economics, history, anthropology, medicine, or physics? In publications from the last twenty years, scholars who view “unity” as the primary benchmark of disciplinary status have labeled (or have come close to labeling) each of these fields as nondisciplines.
Approaches to the study of knowledge systems that emphasize external features rather than internal consistency as the key measure of disciplinarity tend to be more inclusive and often can accommodate contemporary identity disciplines. Fields like Women’s Studies, African American Studies, and Gay and Lesbian Studies generally exhibit most of the functional characteristics associated with disciplinary status. An elaborate academic infrastructure exists to support them: they have their own departments, professional societies, conferences, journals, grants, endowed chairs, and textbooks. They also are at least to some extent associated with specific theories, methods, techniques, and discursive strategies. Scholars working in them employ a specialized vocabulary and propagate themselves by training, examining, and accrediting successors. They review each others’ articles and monographs; submit and judge applications for funding; and build upon the work of their predecessors. Although it would be ludicrous to argue that identity disciplines possess the degree of formalization characteristic of established fields like biology, denying them disciplinary status outright seems to ignore a significant trend: many of these areas of specialization are rapidly professionalizing and in certain cases even arguably becoming more cohesive.
In this book, I intend to treat Russian kraevedenie as an identity discipline, a field of specialization that combines a certain amount of external structure with substantial internal diversity; in which scholars tend to identify strongly with the subject they study; and where the pursuit of knowledge can easily merge with political and social activism. Just as women’s studies throughout the globe in many respects remains bound to the feminist movement and racial and ethnic studies tied to the struggle for tolerance and equality, kraevedenie in Russia has always been strongly associated with the historical and ecological preservation movements, various forms of local boosterism, and, to a real extent, anticentrist sentiment. Scholars who work in institutes and centers of local studies, teach courses in kraevedenie, and author important textbooks in the field also often belong to nongovernmental organizations that agitate for the enforcement of restrictions on development, press for stricter pollution controls, and fight to gain or retain funding for regional museums and parks. They mix comfortably and sense themselves to have common interests with various kinds of local activists. In general, it would be fair to say that most kraevedy perceive themselves as part of a vibrant regional community whose unique character and voice both merits and requires protection. Interested in encouraging the growth of interest in local studies among the population at large and inclined to value many forms of speech on regional affairs, they will often include amateurs with little formal scholarly training or experience in their conferences and publishing projects: instructors who introduce material related to local studies into their elementary schools courses, high school students who have written exceptionally fine papers on regional history, artists whose work depicts local monuments and landscapes, as well as various sorts of enthusiasts and collectors.
A willingness to allow certain nonacademic community members to participate in scholarly forums on a limited basis represents a typical feature of identity disciplines. How can fields in which research and the quest for self-knowledge are regularly equated rigidly exclude beginners and enthusiasts? Practitioners often feel impelled to encourage nonacademics starting off on what they view as the path toward self-realization and fulfillment. Moreover, many value untrained speech on identity issues for another reason: they view it as an important primary source, an example of the way in which the self they study is popularly understood and experienced. Because of their relative inclusiveness, identity disciplines often continue to resemble popular movements even after they have substantially professionalized. They remain inextricably tied to the social and political crusades from which they evolved.
What explains the popularity of kraevedenie in Russia today? What factors have contributed to the growth of interest in this essentially native-born identity discipline over the course of the last fifteen years? Social and political turmoil, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the emergence of a host of new nation-states and regional entities have no doubt played a role. As borders throughout Eastern Europe have shifted, old ways of imagining and understanding the self geographically have necessarily lost much of their relevance. Suddenly no longer part of a larger Soviet population group, Russians have had to redefine themselves as a people in a number of essential ways: they have needed to revise their national historical narrative; establish ethnic, linguistic, and behavioral boundaries between themselves and their neighbors; lay claim to new symbols; and reassess their country’s role on the international stage. What, they ask themselves, does it mean to be Russian? Where does Russianness begin and end? As a discipline that deals with both identity and geographic space, kraevedenie represents an ideal forum for the contemplation of such questions. It offers Russians today the chance to forge regional identities that are at least potentially unmarred by the nationalist (and internationalist) excesses of the Soviet period. Will all the local identities fashioned through kraevedenie ultimately contribute to the growth of a new national sense of belonging that tolerates and even embraces regional differences as important reflections of Russianness? Will kraevedenie help to draw post-Soviet Russia together much as, according to Alon Confino, heimat ideas and symbols did in Germany following the unification of 1871? Perhaps, but it is just as easy to read contemporary Russian regionalism in general and kraevedenie specifically as profoundly anticentrist in orientation, more conducive to continued division than to the reemergence of a strong and relatively untroubled sense of nationhood.
Shifting borders and the need to forge new post-Soviet collective identities go far to explaining the growth of interest in local studies in Russia today. Another less obvious historical factor has also almost certainly contributed to the current boom, however. Modern Russian kraevedenie emerged out of the confluence of several small intellectual and cultural movements, all of which were viciously purged in the late 1920s and the early 1930s. Leading researchers ended up in prisons and camps, institutes and associations closed, and journals folded. These events proved central to the self-conception of later generations of kraevedy. After Stalin’s death in 1953, restrictions on free speech and fear of persecution eased enough to allow kraevedy to rediscover their heritage. Young researchers combed through both public and private libraries and archives in search of forgotten sources; they read the books and manuscripts written by their early-twentieth-century predecessors and met with purge survivors. Inspired by what they learned, many ultimately came to understand the history and purpose of kraevedenie in allegorical terms. They eulogized the time just before the purge as a lost “golden age”; mourned the fallen as “martyrs,” savagely slaughtered by a centralized Soviet state that in terms of its rapaciousness was wholly comparable to Rome; and identified themselves as “survivors,” destined to bear a special form of enlightenment forward into the world. In the decades that followed Stalin’s death, kraevedy worked hard to disseminate knowledge and expand the practice of kraevedenie, but, even when most successful, tended to perceive themselves as somehow “marginal,” operating outside or even against leading social trends, and, for this reason, as possible targets for official persecution. In a sense, Russia’s kraevedy ultimately embraced one of the central charges leveled against them in purge-era diatribes: in the post-Stalin era many practitioners came to regard kraevedenie as fundamentally anti-establishment.
Kraevedenie’s history as a martyred discipline and its countercultural self-conception in the post-Stalin years paved the way for its rapid expansion after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, as other fields struggled to shake off the legacy of seventy years of communism, kraevedenie reveled in its heroic past. It had relatively little institutional baggage and could respond rapidly to political and social changes. Veteran investigators had often led such marginal existences during the Soviet period that they could not easily be accused of complicity in abuses of power. Strongly associated with various forms of regional activism and relatively inclusive by its very nature, kraevedenie seemed more democratic than many older and more established fields. When conflict between Russia’s national government and local interests intensified and emerged as a key political issue in the mid-1990s, kraevedenie resumed its traditional function as a forum for the expression of regionalist ideas. Even as it expanded and put down new institutional roots, it remained a viable avenue for airing minority views on important issues and hence at least potentially an organizing point for new political parties and groups.
I discuss the role of kraevedenie in post-Soviet Russia in somewhat more detail in the conclusion to this book. Earlier sections of this monograph focus on an issue that I see as more primary: the question of kraevedenie’s origin. I do not believe that one can fully grasp the present form of Russian local studies without tracing the history of the discipline. One must, to put the problem in more Foucaultian terms, first show how this particular discursive formation emerged out of a web of relations between centralized state government and various regional interests; the public and the private spheres; art and literary criticism, the educational profession, the scientific community, and central planning authorities; and advocates of old and new aesthetic standards and value systems.
The account of the origin of modern kraevedenie that I provide here will center almost exclusively on a single Russian city: St. Petersburg. In this sense my work resembles the studies of the German heimat idea in the Palatinate by Celia Applegate and in Württemberg by Alon Confino: I look at the way in which a phenomenon that existed throughout an entire country manifested itself in a single locality. It is worth noting, however, that by choosing Russia’s old imperial capital, I have opted to describe a regional school of kraevedenie that is influential as opposed to typical, the discipline’s leading edge rather than its norm. No other Russian city or region can claim the same kind of developed cult of place as St. Petersburg. Founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 as part of an ambitious modernization and Westernization campaign, St. Petersburg from the very first represented symbolic space. It was Russia’s window on Europe; the location of the country’s largest port, most lavish palaces, and greatest cultural institutions. It was the self-consciously Western-looking capital of a half-Asiatic empire. During much of the last three centuries Russian writers and social commentators have used descriptions of St. Petersburg as a means of articulating views on their country’s history and destiny. The city obsessed both the Slavophile and the Westernizer camps in the 1840s, most of the great polemicists of the 1860s, and many early-twentieth-century intellectuals. Depending on one’s point of view, Petersburg could represent a symbol of much-needed and entirely natural progress or an “artificial” city erected in defiance of Russia’s intrinsic character, the capital of a fallen empire or the cradle of the revolution. Speech about St. Petersburg almost inevitably touched upon the central problems of Russian identity. Were Russianness and Europeanness at all compatible? Should Russia strive to emulate the West? Was it behind England, Germany, and France? If so, how could it catch up? Did Russia have some special contribution to make to the world? What constituted the essential characteristics of the Russian people? Were these traits at all in evidence in St. Petersburg?
St. Petersburg’s history and symbolic importance in Russian culture made it a natural site for the emergence of a strong school of local studies. In the early twentieth century, a whole series of popular associations and cultural institutions arose that sought to study Russia’s northern capital and/or preserve the city’s most valuable historical and architectural monuments. Profoundly innovative in many respects, they developed new techniques for the investigation and description of local landscapes; came up with concepts, programs for organizing research activity, and academic standards; coined terminology; and established far-reaching scholarly objectives. Kraevedy from all over Russia today acknowledge these structures as essential wellsprings from which the discipline they practice evolved. Because of both the historical contributions of these early-twentieth-century institutions and the vibrancy of local studies initiatives within St. Petersburg today, the city is widely regarded by contemporary Russian kraevedy as the “theoretical center” of modern kraevedenie. It boasts a huge number of self-professed kraevedy and produces more publications classifiable as works of kraevedenie than any other city or town in Russia. Trends that develop within its regional studies community continue, even now, to spread rapidly to scholarly collectives in other areas.
Nonetheless, my decision to write about kraevedenie in the context of St. Petersburg might, at least from a certain point of view, appear surprising. Although accepted as a truism by most contemporary kraevedy, the designation of St. Petersburg as the “theoretical center” of modern kraevedenie sometimes sounds paradoxical to both Russians outside the discipline and foreign observers with some knowledge of Slavic languages. The etymology of the term kraevedenie doubtless plays a role in fueling such reactions. In Russian, the word krai has a number of different meanings. It can refer to a local region or administrative district, as I noted a few pages ago, but it also calls to mind a host of other, more primary associations. It most frequently signifies the edge or furthest limit of some object or substance (krai stola, krai odezhdy; the edge of a table, the hem on a piece of clothing) and hence, when used in reference to units of territory, tends to suggest location on the periphery; distance from the center (krai sela, krai sveta; the outskirts of the village, the world’s end). Given this pattern, the term kraevedenie, if broken down into its constituent elements, might reasonably be understood to mean the study of the hinterlands, of those areas that lie farthest from the capital. It smacks of provincialism and, as a result, when used in reference to research projects centered in and on the seat of the old imperial government sounds incongruous to many speakers of Russian. Although geographically St. Petersburg does lie on the edge of Russian territory and in the spring of 1918 the city ceased to serve as the nation’s capital, it remains, in the minds of many Russians, of supreme cultural importance and hence far from provincial in character.
In this book I intend to explore those aspects of the history of kraevedenie that helped, despite the apparent etymological incongruity, facilitate the emergence of St. Petersburg as the discipline’s “theoretical center and principal place of origin. I will look in detail at three cultural movements that were, to one extent or another, based in St. Petersburg and that contributed to the formation of modern kraevedenie. Chapters 2 and 3 will discuss the historical preservation movement that emerged at the very beginning of the twentieth century and that was, at least initially, loosely associated with the World of Art circle (Mir iskusstva). In Chapters 4 and 5, I will focus on the pedagogical excursion movement, emphasizing the work of the St. Petersburg excursion theorist Ivan Grevs and his disciple Nikolai Antsiferov. Chapter 6 will look at the network of local studies organizations that was affiliated with the Central Bureau of Kraevedenie (Tsentral’noe biuro kraevedeniia [TsBK]) of the Academy of Sciences in the 1920s. In Chapter 7, I will attempt to show how the meaning of the term kraevedenie shifted and expanded over time by examining a single subfield: literary kraevedenie. In the case of each of the three movements I discuss in this book, I will provide fairly substantive accounts of the history of specific cultural institutions and will comment on the lives and work of individual scholars. This information represents an important part of the prehistory and mythology of modern kraevedenie and is essential to any understanding of the discipline’s current self-conception. As I have already implied, contemporary Russian kraevedy tend to define themselves through comparison to early-twentieth-century people and institutions: as the followers of Benois, Grevs, and Antsiferov; the heirs to the traditions of the Society for the Study and Preservation of Old Petersburg, the Petrograd Excursion Institute, and the Central Bureau of Kraevedenie. Tremendously self-reflective as a discipline, kraevedenie today devotes significant energy to discussions of its emergence and evolution. Virtually every collection of scholarly essays on kraevedenie contains a substantial section on the careers and fate of earlier generations of regional investigators; at conferences, papers on similar topics abound. St. Petersburg preservationists, excursionists, and scholars associated with the Central Bureau of Kraevedenie invariably figure prominently in accounts of kraevedenie’s past.
Aside from an interest in the scholarly investigation of discrete geographic areas and the experience of persecution, what did early-twentieth-century preservationism, the pedagogical excursion movement, and the kind of organized local studies research promoted by the Academy of Sciences in the 1920s share? What ultimately allowed them to be perceived, at least in hindsight, as part of a single disciplinary tradition, as cornerstones of modern kraevedenie? Each movement had its own concerns and biases, a unique approach to the study of geographic space, and a distinct identity. Early-twentieth-century preservationists and excursionists did not, as a rule, think of themselves as kraevedy: until the 1930s, many Russians understood the term kraevedenie quite narrowly, as referring exclusively to the kind of local research promoted by the Central Bureau of Kraevedenie. I argue that one of the primary linkages that helped to bind the movements I study together, ultimately allowing them to be subsumed within a single disciplinary category, was literary. Preservationists, excursionists, and researchers associated with the Central Bureau’s kraevedenie organizations all shared an interest in a class of descriptive texts known commonly as putevoditeli (roughly, guidebooks or written guides). Scholars associated with these movements read these texts, drew factual information from them, collected them, wrote about them, and promoted their dissemination. Emulating the men and women they revere as “forefathers,” modern kraevedy have continued this tradition. They consider old putevoditeli such essential texts that in the last fifteen years they have taken steps to reprint many classic works. Moreover, they work assiduously to promote the continued evolution of this textual form today, composing countless new putevoditeli every year. Although kraevedy, like other scholars, do write traditional book- and article-length studies, much of their most important and characteristic research reaches print in putevoditel’ form.
What exactly is this mode of expression that is so closely associated with kraevedenie today? Broken down into its constituent parts, the word putevoditel’ quite literally means “an instrument (thing) that leads or guides one (voditel’) along a path or route (put’)” and hence, viewed from an etymological perspective, is, as I have already suggested, equivalent to the English-language terms “guidebook” and “guide,” in the sense of a written document. As used by most contemporary Russian readers, bibliographers, and publishers, however, the word has a somewhat broader meaning than its most obvious English-language translations tend to suggest. When applied to descriptions of geographic areas, it can refer not just to standard surveys of sights and places to stay for tourists or business travelers, but also to other, more sophisticated textual forms: inventory-like catalogs of the wonders contained in a particular Russian palace or city; multivolume compendiums of historical anecdotes, statistics, and facts about a particular area; popular surveys of architectural history; and books that provide routes and sample monologues for group tours. Publications that in their titles contain the terms opisanie (description, in this case of a geographic area), ekskursiia (excursion primer), progulka (stroll), and sometimes even ocherk (sketch)—each one of which could designate a separate genre—are often referred to today as putevoditeli, provided they describe a geographic area and its major landmarks or the way of life of its inhabitants. In fact, in the case of at least geographic descriptions and excursion primers, this trend is so pervasive that it would be fair to say that both are generally viewed by Russian readers as subcategories within the larger category of the putevoditel’. A geographic description might well be defined as a putevoditel’ that, in certain respects, resembles an inventory or catalog; the excursion primer as a putevoditel’ that provides those planning to lead a tour to a certain site with necessary background information and a sample route.
Some of the books that contemporary Russians classify as putevoditeli obviously cater to the needs of tourists, business travelers, or new residents. They provide basic factual information about a particular region, city, or sight and offer helpful tips for visitors: notes on where and how to secure services; lists of hotels, restaurants, and clubs; sample itineraries; and estimated costs. A surprising number of texts, however, seem geared more to the interests of long-term local residents. They assume a high level of familiarity with the area and include little practical information. Moreover, although they may contain basic historical facts (when buildings were constructed, the names and nationalities of leading architects, the significance of various monuments), they are often not organized to allow readers to locate the answers to specific questions quickly. In many works termed putevoditeli today, the notion that the book itself represents an immediately useful portable tool, a kind of verbal compass that can lead the reader through physical space, holds true only on the level of metaphor. Authors, as I will explain in more detail in the next chapter, invariably imply that the landscape they survey merits our attention; they often take great pains to point out its most beautiful and interesting features; they may arrange part of their material geographically or use inclusive forms of speech that place both narrator and reader at successive locations so as to create the illusion that, as we read, we also advance through physical space. The guides they write, however, are frequently too heavy to carry on walks and make unwieldy references.
Like certain forms of biography in the West, the putevoditel’ in Russia today appeals to a broad readership with diverse interests and requirements. Although, as I have already suggested, authors can and do craft texts with particular audiences in mind, a single well-written and researched book can attract various categories of readers: visitors to the area being described; new arrivals eager to learn about the city or region to which they have just moved; long-time local residents with an interest in history, geography, or culture; enthusiastic armchair travelers; and specialists in kraevedenie. As a result, such books often sell well. Works that describe Russia’s two modern capitals Moscow and St. Petersburg enjoy particular popularity, no doubt for fairly obvious reasons: each city has a large population, a strong tradition of local patriotism, and a developed myth; exceptionally important role in Russian history, provides the setting for many important works of Russian literature, and represents the focus of the desires and aspirations of much of Russia’s population. As Americans dream of life in New York and Hollywood, Russians fantasize about Moscow and St. Petersburg. Guidebooks about smaller regional centers and provincial areas, although they can sell well enough to justify publication, necessarily attract smaller audiences: with rare exceptions, they appeal primarily to residents (or former residents) and visitors.
Identity issues play an important role in the putevoditel’. In these works writers do not just describe cities, regions, and countries, they also generally strive to characterize their inhabitants. Working from either an insider’s or an outsider’s perspective, depending on their personal loyalties and target audience, authors consider what it means to be a Petersburger, a Muscovite, a Siberian, or a resident of some other area. They struggle to define the personality traits, behavior patterns, and attitudes that, in general, represent manifestations of Russianness. In this sense, the putevoditel’ meshes well with both modern kraevedenie and many of its most obvious precursors; as a genre the guidebook intrinsically seeks to define the self (and in some cases its counterpart, the other) geographically. Early-twentieth-century preservationists, excursionists, and researchers associated with the Central Bureau of Kraevedenie were, no doubt, drawn to the putevoditel’ in part because the natural tendencies of this form mirrored their own proclivities. These geographic descriptions offered the forefathers of modern kraevedenie the opportunity to explore two issues that particularly fascinated them: space and identity. Semipopular in tone, they could be used to communicate with both other specialists and the public at large, something that suited the activist spirit of all three movements.
Because the putevoditel’ played such an important role in the formation of modern kraevedenie, because I see this textual form as a central element that helps to hold the discipline I am writing about together, I will devote considerable space in this volume to discussions of such texts. I will explain why early-twentieth-century preservationists, excursionists, and scholars associated with the Central Bureau of Kraevedenie saw the guidebook as an important form, show how they used old geographic descriptions as sources, and describe the way in which they both innovated and built upon preexisting descriptive traditions in the guides they authored. In order to facilitate this discussion, in Chapter 1 of this text I provide readers with some basic background information about the kinds of geographic descriptions that were written in Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing as in the body of my book on material relating to the St. Petersburg area.
Before launching into this discussion, I want to point out that, although a comparatively young city, St. Petersburg has what in Russian terms counts as an old guidebook tradition. Topographic descriptions of the city began to appear in print soon after it was founded in 1703 and quickly evolved, acquiring, in the space of a single century, many of the attributes of modern guides. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, St. Petersburg had the most developed descriptive tradition in all of Russia. Books written about the capital influenced those composed about other Russian cities and areas. In other words, in guidebook-writing as well as in local studies in general, St. Petersburg represented an important locus of innovation. Trends that appeared in this region frequently spread, prompting similar developments in other cities several years later. Therefore, although the account I provide here of the emergence and evolution of the putevoditel’ will focus on St. Petersburg writers and texts, many of the more general observations I make will also be relevant to the larger examination of the guidebook’s history as a national literary form.