22 November 2022
Good news! If you have a British Library Reader Pass, it is now possible to access most of the Library’s East View e-resources remotely on a personal device. From digital newspaper collections and election ephemera to de-classified archival documents, the resources include a wide range of material originating in the Baltic states, Belarus, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.
Available titles include the Chernobyl Newspapers Collection, 1979-1990; the Social Movements, Elections and Ephemera collection, including the Euromaidan Protests in Ukraine and the Belarus Anti-Fascist Resistance Leaflets, 1942-1944; Russian central and regional newspapers; the Pravda Ukrainy Digital Archive; the Izvestiia and Pravda digital archives; periodicals of Central Asia and the Caucasus; and The Moscow News (1930-2014) digital archive, as well as statistical and bibliographic databases.
In March 2021, we shared some newly acquired e-resources on our blog. Since then, we have added a further three collections to our offering: the Belarus Presidential Election 2020 Ephemera database; an extension to the existing Chernobyl newspaper and archival collections; and the Poliarnaia Kochegarka Digital Archive. By the beginning of 2023 we will add the Demokratychna Ukraina Digital Archive.
For more information on the Library’s East View collections available for remote access, and for detailed instructions on how to connect using a personal advice, please visit our website.
03 November 2022
Call for PhD project partners: ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’
The British Library is pleased to invite applications from HEI partners to co-supervise the AHRC PhD project ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’.
Slavonic and Eastern European collections at the British Library are one of its strengths. Developed since the mid‐19th century, the collections are broad and diverse, including a wide range of materials in Slavonic languages and originating in countries referred to as Eastern Europe and Eurasia. However, despite the diversity of the collections, marginalised voices and the complexities of relations between the cultures are not easily visible through the collections’ structures and descriptions. The British Library co‐supervisors have identified postcolonial research and its application to curatorial practices as a priority approach to these collections, likely to reveal many meaningful gaps and contested interpretations. The team of curators are looking to engage with an HEI partner on a project that can be beneficial for the entire collection area and therefore offer an opportunity for wide interpretation of this CDP.
The purpose of this CDP project is first to advance postcolonial and decolonisation work in the above area studies and then to apply this to the British Library’s collections in the form of policy, review and/or recommendations. Focusing on the Belarusian, Polish, Russian and/or Ukrainian collections, the study will therefore provide the foundation for a new understanding of decolonising practices in the context of Eastern Europe, as well as the Library’s policy on collecting, curating and interpreting the collections.
Cover of Taras Shevchenko, Dumky ta pisni Kobzaria (Kyiv, 1905). The book, part of a series, was issued by Kievskaia starina, a monthly magazine for Ukrainian studies. Originally published in Russian, the magazine was renamed Ukraïna in 1907 and appeared in Ukrainian. Here, the title of the book is written in Ukrainian in Russian orthography.
The collections under investigations can be taken holistically using an Area Studies approach; on a country or regional level; thematically (e.g., as a comparative study of colonial and imperial approaches and practices within Eastern Europe); or focus on ethnic, national or transnational groups (e.g., material produced in minority and minoritised languages and communities). The approaches can also vary from concentrating on theoretical issues and building a theoretical framework, creating comparative analysis or conducting case studies. The potential focus and research questions will be refined and developed with the HEI partner and (once recruited) the student.
Research questions can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- What are the major theoretical problems with the application and adaptation of postcolonial theory to East European postcolonial studies and decolonisation practices? What are common or specific features of postcolonial discourse in East European Studies and how should they be taken into account in interpretation, description and development of collections?
- How can book and print history, and/or the history of collecting be analysed within the postcolonial discourse?
- Is there a need, necessity and/or obligation for the Library to engage with Diasporas, national or transnational communities in the UK and in the countries of origin? What methodological approaches should be applied?
By examining the collections through a critical, historical lens and identifying points of contestation in interpretation, potential outcomes of the project could include:
- highlighting the ‘hidden’ collections and gaps in materials printed in minority languages, by oppressed groups and nationalist movements, as well as materials that represent the complex identities of authors and producers across the present political borders between the countries;
- suggesting the most appropriate language and vocabulary for the purpose of collection discovery and interpretation;
- contributing to decolonising metadata for the British Library’s records;
- suggesting means of communicating and promoting the outcomes of the review.
The placement provides an opportunity to work on a project that will deliver a practical output by improving discovery and accessibility of one of the largest heritage collections in the world, including for the communities who create and are represented in the collections. It also offers an opportunity to develop cultural diplomacy skills by liaising with organisations with varied governance practices and cultural backgrounds, for example: the Ukrainian Institute London, various Polish cultural organisations (e.g. the Pilsudski Institute), COSEELIS, Pushkin House etc.
Based within the Library's European, Americas and Oceania Collections team, the student will have access to advice and support from across this team, and work closely with a smaller team of East European curators. Depending on the student’s interests and project needs there will be opportunities to learn about other roles and activities within the Library (e.g., metadata, cataloguing teams, events, etc). The student will also have access to the Library’s extensive training programmes.
The deadline for applications is Friday 25 November 2022, 5pm. For more information on the project and how to apply, see the Library website.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, Olga Topol and Katie McElvanney, Curators East European Collections
05 September 2022
On 30 August 2022, Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and the last President of the Soviet Union died at the age of 91 in Moscow. Born in 1931, when the Soviet state was already well established, he was a son of his time and country: he worked hard as a teenager during World War II, cried at Stalin’s funeral and believed in the communist future.
Christian Schmidt-Haüer. Gorbachev: The path to Power. London, 1989. YC.1987.a.6030
Although he led the country for only six years, the processes that resulted in global changes in the world and transformed the lives of millions of people started when he was in power. A controversial figure, he is remembered for his inconsistent attempts of reforming the miserably failing Soviet planned economy, while holding on to the already non-viable union of soviet republics, liberating political prisoners and dissidents, announcing glasnost and getting rid of censorship. The awful mismanagement of the Chernobyl disaster and signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the famous anti-alcohol campaign and liberalisation of the anti-clerical regime, the violent suppression of anti-Soviet and pro-independence demonstrations in Tbilisi and Vilnius, and the demolition of the Berlin Wall all happened on his watch.
M. Gorbachev. The Results and Lessons of Reykjavik. Moscow, 1986. YH.1987.a.530
Having ended the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1989, Gorbachev supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. He enjoyed a long life as a ‘common citizen’ after leaving office, could demonstrate self-irony, had a happy marriage and was not shy to show love and devotion to his wife – all very uncharacteristic features for Soviet and Russian leaders. However, Gorbachev never publicly admitted any mistakes and wrongdoings or openly criticised his successors, which is typical in Soviet and Russian politics.
The materials the British Library holds on Gorbachev and his time, of course, reflect the entire spectrum of views and opinions. Among the first books published in the West about Gorbachev are those written by a German international affairs correspondent in Moscow, Christian Schmidt-Haüer, (see the image above) and a noted Soviet scientist and dissident, Zhores Medvedev.
Zhores Medvedev. Gorbachev. Oxford, 1989. YH.1988.b.1201
While the West was deciding on an adequate reaction to the new challenges presented by the Soviet leadership, Polish dissidents were warning western politicians not to trust Gorbachev, as they saw his leadership as not a revision of the Soviet oppressive policies, but just a continuation of them.
How should America respond to Gorbachev's challenge: a report of the Task Force on Soviet New Thinking. Institute for East-West Security Studies, 1987. YC.1989.a.11100
Inny Gorbaczow. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Niepodległość, 1989. Sol. 268w
At the same time, the Association of Belarusians in Great Britain published two letters to Gorbachev written by prominent writers and cultural figures in support of the use and revival of the Belarusian language and against the russification of Belarus. Both letters were openly sent to Gorbachev in the Soviet Union in 1986, but their publication in London was still considered an offence and cost one of the authors his membership in the Communist party.
Letters to Gorbachev: new documents from Soviet Byelorussia. London: Association of Byelorussians in Great Britain, 1987. YC.1988.b.8198
Gorbachev did not attempt to solve this problem, and probably never fully understood it, although he went through a long evolution of political ideas from dogmatic Communism to a social democratic understanding of socialism. A book of conversations with Zdenĕk Mlynář, his good and long-standing friend since their student days at the Moscow State University, shows this evolution.
Mikhail Gorbachev, Zdeněk Mlynář (translated by George Shriver). Conversations with Gorbachev: on Perestroika, the Prague Spring and the crossroads of socialism. NY, 2002. YC.2002.a.14470
Zdenĕk Mlynář, an intellectual and politician, whose ideas formulated in the political manifesto Towards a Democratic Political Organisation of Society (1968) laid the foundation of the Prague Spring in 1968, was one of the signatories of Charter 77 and spent over ten years in exile before the Velvet Revolution. In the book, Mlynář and Gorbachev discuss such questions as ‘freedom of choice’, can the use of force ‘save socialism’, what to do with the party and ‘an airplane that took off without knowing where it would land’. As Peter Duncan wrote in his review of the 2002 English edition of the book, “it is symptomatic that no Russian edition has appeared yet”. To the best of my knowledge, the book has still not been translated into Russian.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Central, East European and Slavonic Collections
Ilya Zemtsov, John Farrar. Gorbachev: the man and the system. London, NY, 2017.
David Barkin. Gorbachev and the decline of ideology in Soviet foreign policy. London, 2019.
William Taubman. Gorbachev: his life and times. London, 2017.
N. P. Makarkin. Gorbachev i peresptoika: popytka ob’’ektivnogo analiza. Moskva, 2014.
10 March 2022
The British Library holds a number of interesting editions by and about the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Some of them are very rare. In addition, in 2014, as part of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), which is administered by the British Library, the Taras Shevchenko National Museum digitised print and archival materials relating to Shevchenko. These files are available via the EAP website and searchable via the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. This digital collection compliments the British Library’s holdings of print materials.
Title page of the British Library’s copy of the 1881 Kobzar (volume one). 1451.a.42.
I first had the opportunity to learn about rare copies of Shevchenko’s works in the collections of the British Library while working on a bio-bibliography of the outstanding Ukrainian bibliographer and librarian Iurii Mezhenko in the early 1990s. It was Mezhenko who collected the world’s largest private collection of Shevchenko’s works and books about the poet. His collection contained a very rare edition of Kobzar in two volumes, published in 1881 in Geneva by Mykhailo Drahomanov. As stated in the preface of the bio-bibliography, only two copies of this Kobzar have survived: one in Mezhenko’s collection and the other (volume one only) in the British Library (Iurii Oleksiiovych Mezhenko… p. 32). The British Library (then the British Museum Library) copy was discovered by Volodymyr Doroshenko, author of the most complete bibliography of Shevchenko, as early as 1942.
What makes this edition so rare? Five years before its publication, in 1876, a decree banning the use of the Ukrainian language in the Russian Empire was issued by Tsar Alexander II. Known as the Ems Ukaz after the German town where it was promulgated, the decree also forbade the import of Ukrainian publications. That is why Shevchenko’s poems were published abroad. Another reason for this decision was that all previous publications of Shevchenko’s works in the Russian Empire were censored, and uncensored poems were only distributed in manuscript copies. Any criticism of the Empire, any hint of the subjugation of Ukrainians, any allusion to a separate Ukrainian identity or former Hetman state was removed from the poems. For example, from the poem ‘The Night of Taras’ lines 15-16, 45-64, and 131-136 were all cut. Among them:
Once there was the Hetmanate
It passed beyond recall.
…. Where the freedom-destiny?
The Hetmans and their banners?
Where is it scattered? Burned to ashes?
Or has the blue sea drowned
And covered over your high hills
And the lofty mounds?
(Translated by Vera Rich)
Copies of the 1878 and 1881 editions of Kobzar in Mezhenko’s collection. Reproduced with kind permission.
Mykhaylo Drahomanov, a scholar and political thinker who had been forced to emigrate following his dismissal from the Kyiv University of St. Volodymyr by the Russian government, initiated the publication of uncensored editions of Kobzar by the Hromada publishing house in Geneva, which operated there from 1876 until 1889. Both the 1881 Kobzar and an earlier edition printed in 1878 (a digitised copy of the 1878 Kobzar is available via the V. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine), open with the text of the Ems Ukaz and are very small in size. Part of the print run of the 1878 edition (5,5 x 8,5 cm) was transported to the Russian Empire “legally” under the guise of cigarette papers manufactured by the well-known French factory ‘Abadie’ as, wrapped in a branded cover, the small book resembled a stack of cigarette papers.
Abadie cigarette paper advert by E. Hilda.
The 1881 edition is a little bigger (7 х 11 cm) but is also of a pocket size which was convenient for transporting to Russian-controlled Ukraine and for hiding. Both of these editions were printed using a reformed Ukrainian alphabet called Drahomanivka. This phonemic orthography was developed in Kyiv in the 1870s by a group of Ukrainian intellectuals including Drahomanov. However, following the ban of Ukrainian language publications and the relocation of publishing activities abroad, this reformed orthography had no chance to be used in Ukraine. The alphabet was named after Drahomanov, who had used it in publications since 1876. As Drahomanivka did not catch on, these and some other editions are historical examples of its usage.
Example of Drahomanivka from the 1881 edition of Kobzar
Title page of ‘Mariia’ by Taras Shevchenko (Geneva, 1882). 011586.ff.49.(3.)
Later, in 1882, Drahomanov used Ukrainian orthography based on the Latin alphabet for printing Shevchenko’s poem ‘Mariia’ in Geneva. This very interesting and rare edition is also held by the British Library, as well as a copy of Drahomanov’s printed report ‘La Littérature Oukraïnienne proscrite par le Gouvernement Russe’, which was distributed at the Paris Literary Congress in 1878 (11851.ccc.19.).
Title page of the 1876 Prague edition of Kobzar. 11585.k.11.
Another rare edition of Kobzar which is preserved in the British Library (and in Mezhenko’s collection) is the Prague edition of 1876. It was published by the printing house of Eduard Grégr (1827–1907), a Czech publicist and politician who, together with his brother, founded the political magazine Národní listy (MFM.MF641; Digitised copies of Národní listy are available via the Moravian Library and the National Library of the Czech Republic).
Digitised file relating to editions of Kobzar published abroad (EAP657/1/51)
The EAP Shevchenko collection contains a file (1881) issued by the Main Department on Print Issues of the Russian Empire relating to editions of Kobzar published abroad, including the Prague edition. The file examines issues of censorship and rights. One report, dated 12 February 1881 and signed by a Russian censor, states that the Prague edition of Kobzar is “subject to unconditional prohibition” (f.6).
As this blog demonstrates, the stories behind these editions are part of Ukrainian history.
Nadiia Strishenets, Leading Researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Library Chevening Fellow. She is working on enhancing metadata for the Shevchenko digital collections.
References and further reading
Iurii Oleksiiovych Mezhenko (1892-1969): materialy do biohrafiï, compiled by T. A. Ihnatova, N. V. Kazakova, N. V. Strishenets (Kyiv, 1994). 2719.e.3344
Taras Shevchenko, “Song out of Darkness”: Selected poems translated from the Ukrainian by Vera Rich. (London, 1961) 11303.bb.3.
09 February 2022
PhD Placement Opportunity - Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples
Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the Slavonic and East European collections at the British Library. Under the title ‘Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples’, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) researching and promoting collections and resources related to Indigenous peoples of Siberia at the Library.
A group of people. Selection of Ethnographic Images from the Krasnoiarsk Regional Local History Museum.
The placement will focus on exploring the collection of photographs created as part of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) project ‘Digitising the photographic archive of southern Siberian indigenous peoples’. This project successfully digitised, archived and distributed 3,672 glass plate negatives collected over a period of time during ethnographical expeditions in South Siberia in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. Work was conducted in four regional archives (Irkutsk, Minusinsk, Yekaterinburg State Archive and Yekaterinburg Writer's Archive). These photographs are now accessible via our online catalogue.
Nenets Shaman. Selection of Ethnographic Images from the Krasnoiarsk Regional Local History Museum.
It will focus on research into this digitised collection and other resources in the British Library related to Indigenous peoples of Siberia, in order to contextualise the photographic archive. The placement will also consider some of the issues connected with Russian language metadata supplied with the collection.
Bukvar. (Букварь на кетском языке). [Primer for Ket-speakers]. (Moscow; Leningrad, 1934) 012924.l.1.
The placement will provide a hands-on introduction to the activities of a major research library and cultural organisation, with a particular focus on cataloguing, collection management, and public engagement. In undertaking the placement project, the student will have the opportunity to consult and work with colleagues across a range of collection areas and roles.
Supervised by Dr Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections, the placement will sit within the European, Americas and Oceania Department. Alongside regular meetings, pastoral support, and training opportunities, the student will benefit from being part of a welcoming and supportive wider team, which includes a number of PhD researchers.
The placement is open to UK-based PhD students from all disciplines and academic backgrounds; however, a good knowledge of the Russian language and interest in and ability to quickly acquire a degree of basic knowledge of Siberia and its peoples is essential.
Further information on eligibility, funding and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is Friday 25 February 2022 (5 pm UK time).
For informal enquiries, please contact Katya.Rogatchevskaia@bl.uk
01 November 2021
The current struggle can only end with the triumph of the popular cause [...] Paris will not retreat, because it carries the flag of the future.
These words are taken from the manifesto of the Paris Commune’s largest and most effective organisation, l’Union des Femmes pour la défense de Paris et les soins aux blessés (the Women’s Union for the Defence of Paris and Care of the Wounded).
‘Manifesto of the Women’s Union for the Defence of Paris and Care of the Wounded Central Committee’, taken from Carolyn Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune (Bloomington (Indiana), 2004) C.2006.a.8599.
The final signatory, Dmitrieff, belongs to one of the most interesting and important actors through the Paris Commune, the socialist and anarchist insurrection which toppled the hegemonic order for 72 days in the Spring of 1871.
Born in Saint-Petersburg, Elizaveta Lukinichna Kusheleva had already encountered socialist ideas thanks to her exposure to Nikolai Chernyshevksy’s novel What is to Be Done? (1863). Though born into a family of significant wealth, growing up she occupied a liminal social space because of the disparity in her parents ranking: a Russian aristocrat and a German nurse.
Nevertheless, a marriage blanc to retired colonel Mikhail Tomanovskii in 1867 saw her able to travel freely outside of Russia.
She chose Geneva to continue her studies. There, she was amongst the founders of the Russian émigré section of the International, as well as utilising what remained of her sizeable inheritance to fund their newspaper, Narodnoe delo, ‘The Cause of the People’.
In 1870, the Russian émigré section of the International sent her as an envoy to London. It was there she would meet and befriend Karl Marx. Their relationship was one defined by productive intellectual interactions, with Dmitrieff relaying to Marx her realities of economic and social formation in the communes of Russia.
After just three months in London, she was deployed again as an envoy of the International to Paris, this time on behalf of Marx. Arriving in late March, just as the Paris Commune had been proclaimed, she chose Dmitrieff as her nom-de-guerre in the hope that it would help her evade authorities.
Standing 1.66m tall, dressed with a certain elegance and a particular penchant for wearing black, Dmitrieff, aged just 20, would go on to be one of the most important figures of the insurrection.
Portrait of Élisabeth Dmitrieff, taken from Ivan Sergeevich Vetrov, Russkie deiateli pervogo Internatsionala i Parizhskoi Kommuny. E. D. Dmitrieva, A. V. Zhaklar, E. G. Barteneva [With portraits.], (Moscow, 1964). X.709/595.
In the weeks following her arrival, an ‘Appeal to the Women Citizens of Paris’ was published onto the streets of Paris, which alongside calls for revolutionary justice, appealed to women to join the newly formed Union des Femmes, set up by Dmitrieff and Nathalie Lemel. Though its immediate interest was finding work for women, the Union also pursued the task of economically and socially redefining traditional notions of women’s work.
Dmitrieff worked frantically through the Commune to the point of illness. This is demonstrated by the aforementioned manifesto, published on May 6th. Towards the end, the document states that:
The women of Paris will prove to France and to the world that they, at the supreme moment of danger – on the barricades, on the ramparts of Paris, and if the reaction forces it, the doors - will give their brothers their blood and their life for the defence and the triumph of the Commune, that is, the People!
Dmitrieff was no mere propagandist. She was injured on the barricades through the conflict in the last week of May which saw as many as 20,000 communards die. After a period of hiding in the home of a friend, Dmitrieff managed to evade capture and flee to Geneva, before returning to Russia.
After the death of her ‘husband’ in 1873, she married again, this time for love, to Ivan Mikhailovich Davydovskii. Together they had two children, before moving the family to Siberia following the exile of her husband – who had been implicated in an attempt by the so-called 'Jack of Hearts Club' to defraud a man of 20 thousand rubles by getting the victim drunk. Fascinatingly, the couple opened a pastry shop, hoping to cater to the political prisoners sent to Siberia. The venture would prove to be unsuccessful.
By 1902, Dmitrieff had left Davydovskii and returned to Moscow. It is here she and her daughters somewhat fall off the historical record. There is no clarity on the date of her death: estimates identify either 1910 or 1918 as likely dates.
As a figure of historical study, she was largely overlooked until Soviet histories emerging through the 1930s. Nevertheless, the Library holds several books across several languages which demonstrate her importance to both the Commune and its historians.
A starting point would be Russkie deiateli pervogo Internatsionala i Parizhskoi Kommuny. E. D. Dmitrieva, A. V. Zhaklar, E. G. Barteneva (‘Russian leaders of the First International and the Paris Commune. E. L. Dmitrieva, A. V. Zhaklar, E. G. Barteneva’) by Ivan Sergeevich Vetrov. Even if you don’t read Russian, the wonderful portraits included are still worth checking out.
Two French biographies, the first by Yvonne Signer-Lecocq, Rouge Élisabeth, and a second by Sylvie Braibant, Elisabeth Dmitrieff, aristocrate et pétroleuse, both take Dmitrieff as their centrepiece, offering sharp insights into her first experiences of Paris: a city she had never visited before her arrival in late March, 1871.
Another book worth consulting is Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune by Carolyn Eichner. The book takes three communardes as its subject: André Leo, Paule Mink and Dmitrieff, while referring to many others, to demonstrate the plurality of feminist-socialist interventions through the Commune. Eichner has written extensively on the subject, including a recent article on Louise Michel and the transportation of communards to New Caledonia and their eventual conflict with the indigenous Kanak community.
Place Élisabeth Dmitrieff, 3rd Arrondissement, 1851-1918. Militant feminist, co-founder of the Women’s Union for the Defence of Paris (1871). Source: Flickr
Now recognised by Paris in the form of a small square in the city’s third arrondissement, Dmitrieff’s involvement cannot be underestimated. Her practical applications of highly-centralised socialism, emanating from her experiences in Russia and Geneva, as well as her interactions with the works of Chernyshevksy and Marx, means that Dmitrieff’s star still shines over the Commune.
Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London
Sylvie Braibant, Elisabeth Dmitrieff, aristocrate et pétroleuse (Paris, 1993). YA.1993.b.11074.
Catherine Clément, Aimons-nous les uns les autres : roman (Paris, ). YF.2018.a.11194
Carolyn Eichner, ‘Language of Imperialism, Language of Liberation: Louise Michel and the Kanak-French Colonial Encounter’, Feminist Studies, vol. 45, no. 2-3 (2019), pp. 377-408. Special issue: Indigenous Feminisms in Settler Contexts. 3905.197800
Yvonne Signer-Lecocq, Rouge Élisabeth (Paris, 1977). X:709/24054.
Ivan Sergeevich Vetrov, Russkie deiateli pervogo Internatsionala i Parizhskoi Kommuny. E. D. Dmitrieva, A. V. Zhaklar, E. G. Barteneva (Moscow, 1964). X.709/595.
04 August 2021
To coincide with the British Library's exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, we've put together a series of blog posts about a few other bears (fictional and real) from the collections.
In 1926, the Russian Bear first spoke English: twenty-one tales about bears were collected and translated into English by Jane Ellen Harrison and Hope Mirrlees. In The Book of the Bear these two British women taught the Russian Bear to speak English. Ray Garnett (Rachel Marshall, wife of David Garnett and sister of the translator and diarist Frances Partridge) shared with the British public her vision of how it might look like. The Russian Bear in its English reincarnation appeared to be well connected to the Bloomsbury group of intellectuals and even to the British Museum Library (David’s great-grandfather and grandfather both worked there).
But why did it draw such attention?
Title page of The Book of the Bear
Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928) received a classical education at Cambridge, which, however, did not prevent her from being truly interested in Russia. Harrison developed an interest in this distant and strange country as a child, when her father, who had business connections in the Baltic region, brought home "caviar, cranberries and deer tongues" as a gift from Russia. Later, by 1919, she completed the Russian language course at the University of Cambridge and was able to teach it, which she did for several years, using her original methodology. Despite the fact that later her interest in Russia took an academic form, Russia forever remained for Harrison a country where bears with a mysterious Russian soul live. The bear image was one of the key ones for Harrison, especially considering her passion for totemism. She once even address her friend Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky “Dear Bear Prince”.
The opening of 'The Bear and the Crane and the Horse' in The Book of the Bear
In her preface to The Book of the Bear Harrison explained:
The bear is “in all respects like a man,” but there are many men – the stories here collected are with one exception all Russian, and in them the beast is seen as a true Russian, friendly, hospitable, cheery, the best of comrades, the worst of officials, tolerant of all social vices, pitiless only to the pretentious.
'The Bear's Lullaby' in The Book of the Bear
Svyatopolk Mirsky saw serious philosophical foundations in Harrison's totemism:
Everyone who knew her knew about the serious emotional significance she attached to what she considered her totem — the bear. Her bear cult - an emotional consequence of her anthropological research - was, it seems to me, a symbol of her entire religious worldview. Since the bear, the most human-like of the beasts <...> symbolized for her the unity between the living nature and the identity of man and beast. I venture to suggest that one of the psychological reasons for her love for Russia was the figure of the Russian bear, which had long and firmly embedded in the tradition thanks to British cartoonists. In any case, the psychological identity Russia = Bear was undoubtedly real for her, and played a significant role in her attachment to Russia.
Illustration and page from the story 'Hare Ivanich' in The Book of the Bear
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
Jane Ellen Harrison, and Hope Mirrlees, The Book of the Bear: being twenty-one tales newly translated from the Russian. The pictures by Ray Garnett, etc. (London, 1926). 12403.aaaa.26.
More bear-themed posts from the European Studies blog:
02 July 2021
This is a general knowledge quiz question: “What is the link between a brass bottle and football”? Sorry, wrong question. The correct question should go like this: “What is the link between The Brass Bottle and Soviet football”? If you have ever read the comedy novel by F. Anstey (real name Thomas Anstey Guthrie), The Brass Bottle (London, 1900; 12632.i.26.), or seen one of the films based on this novel, you might remember that this is a story about an ordinary man who found a jinn. The novel influenced not only George Orwell, but also a young unknown Soviet writer Lazar Lagin, who read it as a boy in an early Russian translation.
Cover of the 1946 Penguin edition of The Brass Bottle by F. Anstey. Source: Wikipedia
In Lagin’s fantasy published in the most popular Soviet children’s magazines Pioner (Young Pioneer) in 1938, a Soviet boy, Vol’ka, fishes out a strange jug from the Moscow River. Old Jinn Khottabych was imprisoned there by an angry sultan and Vol’ka lets him out. Khottabych is happy to fulfil all Vol’ka’s wishes, but at first he finds the life and customs in the Soviet Union too strange and egalitarian for his liking.
Pages from Lagin's story Starik Khottabych published in Pioner in 1938
On one occasion, they go to a football match between popular teams Chisel and Puck. Vol’ka and his friend Zhenia – both big Chisel fans – want to impress Khottabych by the beauty and energy of football, which has become one of the most important sports in the USSR. Lagin warns his readers that “During the days of football competitions, the entire population of Moscow is split into two camps who do not understand one another. In one camp, there are football enthusiasts. In the other camp, we find mysterious people, completely indifferent to this fascinating sport”.
At the very beginning, Khottabych belongs to the second camp. He struggles to understand (and sometimes I still do, too) why 22 strong, young men are chasing one ball: “Will these twenty-two nice young men have to run over such a vast field, lose strength, fall and push each other only to be able to touch a plain leather ball for a split moment? Is it because there was just one ball for all of them to play with?”
Once I quoted Khottabych to one of my football-fan friends, and he in full seriousness started explaining the rules of the game to me. Little did he know what Khottabych had done in Lagin’s book! Khottabych gives each player a ball to enjoy: “Something unheard of in the history of football has happened. It is impossible to explain from the point of view of the laws of nature either: twenty-two brightly coloured morocco balls fell from the sky and rolled across the football pitch”.
Illustration from Starik Khottabych showing 22 balls falling from the sky onto the football pitch (Rotov, 1958)
The game is stopped, but not ruined. However, because of the episode with the 22 balls, the Puck team missed a good opportunity to score, and Khottabych, feeling increasingly guilty, starts to support it. Of course, Vol’ka and Khottabych end up on different sides of the barricade: Vol’ka supports Chisel and Khottabych – Puck!
Everyone knows that cheating is bad. But, maybe, just a little bit... Not being aware of Khottabych’s growing sympathy towards Puck, Vol’ka is carried away with the idea of exercising the magic power of the jinn. He asks Khottabych to “move Puck’s goalpost a little bit, when Chisel are kicking”. And Khottabych does the complete opposite:
The second goal in three minutes [to Chisel]! And both times through no fault of the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper fought like a lion, but what could he do? At the moment when a Puck player was kicking, the upper bar of the Chisel goal moved up by itself to let the ball fly past his fingertips. Who should he tell about it? Who would believe it? The goalkeeper felt sad and scared like a little boy who had gotten into a deep forest at night.
Illustration from Starik Khottabych showing Khottabych moving the goal post to help Puck to score (Val’k, 1953)
But only when the Puck goalpost moved inwards to prevent Chisel from scoring, does the penny drop and Vol’ka realises that Khottabych has become a football fan – he could no longer control himself and used all his magic power to help his team. By the end of the first half Puck was winning 24:0! Vol’ka became very angry: “- I demand, I finally order you to stop this mockery immediately! - he hissed at Khottabych. - I will unfriend you forever! Choose: me or Puck! - You’re a football lover yourself, so can’t you understand me? - the old man pleaded. But, this time he understood by looking at Vol’ka's face, that their friendship may really end”. After Khottabych pulls out a hair from his beard and mumbles some spells, all 11 Chisel players suddenly become unwell and are diagnosed with measles. The game is stopped and the score is declared invalid. The story goes that the next day the footballers woke up perfectly healthy. “This rare fact was described in detail in an article by the famous professor L.I. Pertussis. His article was published in the scientific medical journal ‘Measles and Illness’. The article is called ‘Here You Go!’ and is so successful that it is completely impossible to get the issue of the journal with this article in public libraries. So you, dear readers, better not even try. You won't find it anyway, and will just waste your time”.
Lazar' Lagin, The Old Genie Hottabych. Translated by Fainna Solasko. Illustrated by B. Markevich (Moscow, ). 011388.p.27.
I should probably confirm at this point that even the British Library does not hold this article, but instead holds several editions of The Brass Bottle and quite a few books by Lagin, including several editions of the story about Khottabych and even an English translation of it. Therefore, you won’t waste your time if you come to the Library some time between the Euro 2020 matches, as you may explore the links between bottles, jinni, football and Soviet pioneers for yourself.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
12 March 2021
With the tentative but hopeful news that the British Library Reading Rooms will be able to re-open after 12 April, we wanted to highlight some new Slavonic e-resources. Like the Library's other subscribed resources, the following Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian-language digital collections and archives will be available to access onsite in the St Pancras and Boston Spa Reading Rooms. To view the full list of databases and to access them in the Reading Rooms, please use this link.
We are working on making these resources available remotely to all registered readers, but – bear with us – it is a mammoth job. In the meantime, you can find a number of (mostly) free digital resources via our blog and collection guide.
Cover of 30 Dnei from September 1925. Credit: East View
30 Dnei Digital Archive
Founded in 1925 in Moscow 30 Dnei (30 Days) was an illustrated Soviet literary journal famous for the serialised publications of works such as Il’f and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf. It was also known for its visually striking covers designed by famous Soviet artists and photojournalists, including Aleksandr Rodchenko. After falling foul of the central government in later years, the journal ceased publication soon after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941.
30 Dnei originally appeared as a literary supplement to Gudok (The Whistle), the daily newspaper of Soviet railway workers. In the 1920s, Gudok became known for its satirical sketches, to which Il’f and Petrov were regular contributors. The Library holds imperfect runs of Gudok from 1921 and 1922 on microfilm (MFM.MF1284V).
Belarusian anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942. Credit: East View
Belarus Anti-Fascist Resistance Leaflets and Press
These two collections consist of 97 World War II leaflets produced during the period of German occupation of Belarus in 1941–1944, as well as 30 newspaper titles published between 1942 and 1945. Most of the leaflets were published clandestinely by the multiple Soviet guerilla (partisan) detachments, as well as by the scores of underground resistance groups which operated in German-occupied cities and villages. The majority of the newspapers were printed by underground resistance groups in secret printing press facilities operating in small Belarusian towns in the territories occupied by the Germans, while others were distributed by Belarusian partisan detachments operating from remote areas of Belarus. The materials are in Belarusian and Russian.
Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987. Credit: East View
Chernobyl Newspapers Collection
Following the Library’s recent purchase of the digital archive, The Chernobyl Files, we have acquired an additional electronic collection of newspapers published in towns in the exclusion zone and its immediate vicinity. They include three previously unavailable local newspapers, Prapor peremohy, Tribuna energetika, and Tribuna pratsi, and cover the period 1979–1990.
Cover of Nedelia, 28 December 1963 - 4 January 1964. Credit: East View
Nedelia Digital Archive
Founded in 1960, Nedelia (Week) was a popular illustrated Soviet weekly newspaper that began as a Sunday supplement to Izvestiia under the editorship of Aleksey Adzhubey, the son-in-law of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It was one of the very few Soviet periodicals that kept the official Communist Party propaganda to a minimum, covering instead cultural, social, and political happenings with a certain degree of light-heartedness, which perhaps was the main reason behind its popularity.
Ogonek, no. 1, 1903. Credit: East View
Ogonek (St. Petersburg) Digital Archive
Established in 1899 and in continuous print until 1918, Ogonek started as a weekly illustrated supplement to the influential St. Petersburg-based newspaper Birzhevye Vedomosti (British Library: Mic.B.1089). Ogonek later became a separate entity, attracting some of the most notable journalists, photographers and critics of the period.
Russia in Transition
This digital collection contains primary source materials, ranging from samizdat newspapers to flyers to posters to booklets and brochures from 1989 to 1993, encompassing a period of unprecedented social and political activism in Russia. In addition to this new collection, the British Library also has access to a large number of digitised election related materials from the countries of the former Soviet Union (see Social Movements, Elections, Ephemera).
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Materials republished from products originally made available by East View Information Services
12 February 2021
One of our key roles as curators is to explore the contemporary resonance of the Library’s collections in national and international contexts. I was acutely reminded of this two weeks ago when showing an item at an event connected to the exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights. Together with colleagues from the European, Americas and Oceania collections, we each selected and discussed an item that we felt spoke to the themes of the exhibition and went beyond its UK focus, before joining the audience for an informal Q&A session.
Beginning with women's suffrage cartoons from a 19th-century newspaper published in Aotearoa New Zealand, the session also introduced our online audience to the cartonera book Afro Latina by the Afro-Brazilian lesbian author Formiga, as well as a work by the 19th-century French writer, feminist and anarchist Victoire Léodile Béra, known as André Léo.
The event was originally scheduled to take place in June 2020 at the British Library but was postponed – along with the exhibition – due to the pandemic and eventually re-conceived as an online session. Like many of the Library’s brilliant online events over the past year, the format allowed us to reach a much larger audience, with close to 100 people tuning in.
Ialtinskaia Delegatka. Yalta, 1927. Add MS 57556.
The item I presented was an enormous 2-metre long, hand-drawn Soviet wall newspaper, Ialtinskaia Delegatka (The Yalta Woman Delegate). Created by a local women’s committee in Yalta, Crimea, in the late 1920s, it contains reports on their achievements, as well as amateur poetry, drawings and stories intended to inspire and promote communist values.
In the bottom right hand corner is a drawing of a woman carrying out an epic feat of multitasking. She is simultaneously writing (possibly carrying out committee work for the newspaper), cooking, cleaning and watching a child. I find it particularly fascinating as it encapsulates the different – often conflicting and gendered - responsibilities that the new Soviet woman was supposed to balance: those of a Communist citizen, worker, mother and, increasingly by the late 1920s, wife.
Close up of a drawing from the newspaper of a woman simultaneously writing, cooking, cleaning and caring for a child
The newspaper is important as it gives us an idea of how the 1917 Russian Revolution and the first years of Bolshevik rule affected the lives of many women – as seen from the perspective of women themselves.
The Bolshevik revolution established the legal equality of women and men. In October 1918, legislation known as The Family Code granted illegitimate children the same legal rights as legitimate ones, secularised marriage, and allowed a couple to take either the husband or wife’s name once married. Divorce became easily obtainable, abortion was legalised in 1920, and communal facilities for childcare and domestic tasks were introduced with the aim of relieving women of household chores and dismantling the traditional, nuclear family. In 1919, a Women’s Bureau (Zhenotdel) was established. Its purpose was to disseminate propaganda among working class women and attempt to engage them in public life and the revolutionary process.
Cover of the women's journal Rabotnitsa, No. 1, 1923. BL copies at Mic.F.866 and Mic.A.20186. Image from Wikimedia Commons
By the mid- to late-1920s, both public and party attitudes towards family policy had become more conservative. This was partly in response to the social impact of some of the reforms of 1918, particularly de facto marriages, which were seen to in fact create inequality for women.
High unemployment among women in the 1920s and rising numbers of homeless children played a significant role in the return to the more traditional family unit. In 1926 a new marriage law granted registered and unregistered marriages equal rights and placed more emphasis on the obligations that came with marriage. Plans to free women from childcare and housework by creating communal facilities had also failed to fully materialise – as is perhaps clear from the drawing of the multi-tasking woman.
In the 1930s, Stalin further reversed many of the rights granted to women and families in the 1918 Family Code. Abortion was banned, divorce became extremely difficult to obtain, and the law on the rights of illegitimate children was revoked.
Stalin also closed the Zhenotdel in 1930 on the basis that women’s emancipation had been achieved in the Soviet Union and the department was therefore no longer needed. Despite this, throughout the entire history of the Soviet Union, women constituted (on average) only 3–4% of the party’s Central Committee.
Thus, the early Communist vision of women’s equality and liberation was never fully realised. As emphasis shifted back towards the traditional family unit in the 1930s, women were faced with the double burden of combining domestic duties with full-time work.
Although the newspaper had been at the back of my mind before the pandemic, it took on an additional significance in the context of the past year’s events. On seeing the drawing of the multi-tasking woman, one colleague remarked that it gave her goosebumps. Across the world, women are doing more unpaid domestic chores and family care as a result of the pandemic, often in addition to other work responsibilities. According to global data from UN Women, it could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality.
Official social media advert from January 2021 urging people to ‘Stay Home. Save Lives’
The use of gender stereotypes in the media only serves to reinforce this inequality. Just the day before the event, it transpired that the UK government had withdrawn a ‘Stay Home’ advert after it was criticised for its sexist portrayal of women. The advert showed a woman carrying out domestic chores and home-schooling children while the only man depicted is seen relaxing on the sofa.
The backlash to the advert, along with the countless inspiring stories of activism featured in the Unfinished Business exhibition, demonstrate that the fight for gender equality is far from over.
Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Although the physical exhibition space is currently closed due to lockdown restrictions, you can discover more about the stories, people and events that have shaped society, as well as the work that remains unfinished, through the exhibition web resource, podcast and fantastic series of online events.
Further reading and references:
Barbara Alpern Engel, Women in Russia, 1700–2000 (Cambridge; New York, 2004)
Catherine Baker, ed., Gender in 20th Century Eastern Europe and the USSR (London; New York, 2017)
Elizabeth A. Wood, The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia (Bloomington, 1997)
Jane McDermid and Anna Hillyar, Midwives of Revolution: Female Bolsheviks and Women Workers in 1917 (London, 1999)
Marianna Muravyeva and Natalia Novikova, eds., Women's History in Russia: (Re)Establishing the Field (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2014).
Melanie Ilic, ed., The Palgrave Handbook of Women and Gender in Twentieth-Century Russia and the Soviet Union (London, 2017).
Richard Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860–1930 (Princeton, NJ; Oxford, 1991)
Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Equality and Revolution: Women's Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905–1917 (Pittsburg, Pa., 2010)
Rosalind Marsh, ed., Women in Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge, 1996)
Wilma Rule and Norma C. Noonan, eds., Russian Women in Politics and Society (Westport, Conn.; London, 1996)
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