Tag Archives: Information and Empire: Mechanisms of Communication in Russia

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Open Access in Russia – a point of connection?

The Russian National Library, St Petersburg. Image credit: Obuolys at the English language Wikipedia

Since the success of Information and Empire: Mechanisms of Communication in Russia 1600-1850 edited by Simon Franklin and Katherine Bowers, and our growing number of titles that focus on Russia-related topics, we have become interested in the growing use of OPB’s titles and Open Access resources more generally in Russia. Here’s what we found.

When it comes to internet usage, Russia keeps itself to itself. This is partly enforced by state censorship, the Russian government increasingly exploiting the Internet’s surveillance potential. New legislation in 2016, one of the so-called ‘Yarovaya Laws’, decreed internet providers must now record the content of users’ online communications, alongside the customary date, time and duration. These Data Retention Laws mean Western websites like LinkedIn are blocked – supposedly to protect the data of Russian citizens, but more likely to sweep it under the Kremlin’s thumb. Russian society is also fairly isolated from the West, due to the legacy of barriers both linguistic and ideological, and this is reflected in the popular rejection of Facebook in favour of a Russian equivalent. This Cyrillic doppelganger is called ‘VKontakte’ and is easily the most popular website in the country. So popular in fact, that one anthropologist described it as the only internet resource used by the ‘silent majority’ of Russians, with purely local friendship groups making it feel ‘as if the internet did not extend more than 40km in any direction’.[1]

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The Role of the Well-Timed Question

My chapter in Information and Empire is something that I never really expected to write. It came about because of a simple question from Katia Bowers about what I might have to contribute to the conference where the volume began. Did I have anything about newspapers or periodicals? she asked.

It’s funny how things happen. I was in the process of going through the copy editing for my book on social estate, and if I’d been prompted just to suggest something for a conference on information technology, I would perhaps have come up with something about the very many registers of townspeople and merchants or manumission forms that were produced during the tsarist era. But then again, I might not, since I rather felt like I’d written everything I could on those, between a recent conference paper and, well, the book (I still cherish hearing a colleague call my description of such documents “archival pornography”).
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Expect the Unexpected

Underlying my contributions to Information and Empire is academic work extending back several decades over much of my academic career (with many breaks for other projects). I have had the satisfaction of seeing conclusions based on imperfect evidence confirmed by the work of colleagues (notably Ingrid Maier and Stepan Shamin), who have taken the analysis to new levels. The process also has taught me to expect the unexpected and to confront complexities whose resolution may never be within our grasp.

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Of Roots and Scrolls

Or,
How the Bible, Witchcraft, and Botany Were Brought Together By Bureaucracy In A Completely Everyday Fashion That Was Totally Normal At The Time, No, Really, Stay With Me On This One You Guys.

Because I can explain. This is the story of an institution both entirely unique and completely typical, and of its documents, which were also weird and wonderful whilst being simultaneously humdrum and mundane. This is the story of the Apothecary Chancery. Across the seventeenth century, an official institution housed in an unassuming building next to the Moscow Kremlin was home to a small group of foreign medical practitioners (immigrants – they get the job done), and a smaller group of Russian bureaucrats, who did various things with their day, among which was to read things, talk about things, and write things down. That last part happened in a normal way for their surroundings, that is to say they were written in Russian, and on scrolls. This was how all official documents were created, circulated, and joined together into long threads around the entire empire, whether about the rise and fall of nations, or the delivery of firewood.
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How do people know things?

 

“How do people know things?” – the title of this blog post – seems like a simple question, but as our new publication, Information and Empire: Mechanisms of Communication in Russia, 1600-1850 demonstrates, the answer is complex. The volume focuses on how people knew things in pre-modern Russia, from the official information collected and used by the imperial government or created and circulated through bureaucratic institutions to the ways in which information was circulated publicly and privately through newspapers, the post, and experienced through the visual “graphosphere”. In addressing the broader question of the empire’s knowledge, the book brings together a history of information and its communication in Russia through case studies written by specialists. Continue reading