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248 posts categorized "Slavonic"

05 January 2023

The Photographic Collection of Indigenous Childhood

The digitised photographic archive of Siberian indigenous peoples (available online from the British Library’s website) is a rich source of information about late Russian and early Soviet colonisation of Siberia. The collection of over 4000 images is the result of five years of exploratory work led by David Anderson (University of Aberdeen,) and Craig Campbell (University of Alberta) in Central Siberia. The research group digitised glass plate negatives in five Siberian archives: Irkutsk, Minusinsk, Ekaterinburg, and Krasnoiarsk. Although many photographs lack any original descriptions, and thus it is not always easy to identify where and when they were taken, the visual archive nevertheless provides great insight into the lives of Siberian indigenous peoples, in particular, Mansi, Nenets, Evenki, Buryat, Karagas, Soyot, Nganasan, Dolgan, Khakas, Khanti, and Kety.

In their articles based on the results of their research, Anderson and Campbell suggested several common tropes to interpret the photographs of indigenous peoples. They explored the themes of ‘travel photography’, ‘ethnographic photography’, ‘expedition photography’, and ‘community-driven portrait photography’, and provided examples. This, however, is by no means an exhaustive list of possible tropes to explore the vast visual collection. Drawing on Anderson and Craig’s observations, I would like to suggest exploring the subject which arrested my attention and the attention of several colleagues at the BL: the visual representation of indigenous childhood and its transformation during the time of intense Soviet collectivisation in the 1920s and 1930s.

The family of Nganasan, Dyutamo Turdagina: his wife Palai, son Murkari, baby Kurvak

Taimyr. The family of Nganasan, Dyutamo Turdagina: his wife Palai, son Murkari, baby Kurvak. 1938. Photo by Ivan Baluev. (All captions are my own translations of the original annotations made by the Russian photographers)

Children during their class at school

Children during their class at school

The British Library’s digital photographic collections contain many photographs representing children, taken by various photographers – whose names are not always identifiable – during their expeditions. Although the goals of each expedition require some separate research, it is often possible to deduce from the photographs whether the photographers took pictures for ethnographic purposes or for political propaganda.

The ethnographic expeditions to Siberia usually sought to collect information about the ‘sparse’ native peoples of Siberia, and the children in such photographs are usually portrayed as immersed in their families’ social and professional lives, or engaged in traditional games. They are dressed in the national costumes which represent the ‘exotic’ features of Siberian peoples. It was a common colonial practice to collect various artefacts representing indigenous cultures, such as traditional clothing, musical instruments, tools, and housewares which would form vast museum collections. 

Family

Family

A woman with her child

A woman with her child

A Nganasan man, Dyutalyu Turdagin, setting a fish trap

Taim. A Nganasan man, Dyutalyu Turdagin, setting a fish trap, 1938. Photo by Ivan Baluev

The Stalin collective farm: the collective farmer, Aksenova Evdokiia, a Sakha native, is making a sleeping bag

Taim. The Stalin collective farm: the collective farmer, Aksenova Evdokiia, a Sakha native, is making a sleeping bag. 1938. Photo by Tyurin

Durakova, a collective farmer at the Stalin collective farm, is decorating the male parka with some beads

Taim. Durakova, a collective farmer at the Stalin collective farm, is decorating the male parka with some beads. She is considered a skilled worker. 1938. Photo by Ivan Baluev

A woman with two children

A woman with two children. 1927. Photo by Tyurin

Studies of indigenous childhood had been one of the prominent areas of study in the Russian Empire’s ethnography, and it became even more significant in the 1920s and 30s, when the Soviet State rushed to construct a new society by culturally assimilating Siberian peoples. Indigenous children became the chief target of Soviet policies concerned with the creation of new generations of Soviet people. The photographs of children were not ideologically neutral: they were designed to show the transformation of the old into the new.

Pictures of children taken during the Soviet expeditions often represented them as integrated into Soviet culture rather than as representatives of their national cultures. Soviet photographs of children were often intended to demonstrate the result of Soviet reforms and the transformation of ‘savages’ into educated Young Pioneers. In the photographs we see the children dressed in uniform Soviet clothing.

A group of pioneer-children

A group of pioneer-children. Photo by Nosilov (assumed)

A group photograph of Evenki

A group photograph of Evenki. Photo by Nosilov (assumed)

They are playing Soviet games.

Sakha children in the Volochanka residential school, in the playroom

Taim, Volochanka. Sakha children in the Volochanka residential school, in the playroom

Children making a pyramid

The Nizhne-tunguskaia expedition. Children making a pyramid. 1925

We also find pictures of children visiting a picture gallery, something that can be interpreted as their symbolic initiation into the world of Soviet ‘civilised’ culture.

Buryat children visiting a picture gallery

Buryat children visiting a picture gallery. 24.07.1923

Many such photographs were taken during the census expeditions of 1926, which were conducted in cooperation with geographers and ethnographers. The census was a worldwide colonial statistical practice, and the Soviets employed and developed new approaches to classifying the peoples of their vast empire. The indigenous peoples were surveyed within their households and individually to collect demographic data describing their diet, economy, trade data, beliefs, folklore, and so on. If the statistical information collected during the census was intended to provide an objective summary of life in the remote parts of the Soviet Union, then the photographs often offered a somewhat idealised picture of the social inclusion of indigenous peoples within Soviet life. The photographs of children were especially important as they depicted the social and cultural production of the new generation of loyal Soviet citizens.

Numerous aspects of Soviet modernisation were introduced in indigenous settlements, such as medical care, veterinary services, and housing. Often photographers chose to take pictures of children in these new Soviet settings.

An Evenk student, Hukochar Emel'yan, 11 years old, at a tuberculosis dispensary for a blood test

Tura. An Evenk student, Hukochar Emel'yan, 11 years old, at a tuberculosis dispensary for a blood test. January 1939. Photo by Ivan Baluev

A young Yakut mother with a new-born at the Eseiskoi hospital

A young Yakut mother with a new-born at the Eseiskoi hospital. December 1938. Photo by Ivan Baluev

The most common setting for the pictures were school classrooms: the photographers were specifically advised to document ‘the dawn of cultural and primary school education’ among Siberian peoples, and the work of teachers liquidating illiteracy (Anderson, Batashev, Campbell, 2015, p. 501). To the modern eye, these pictures might look somewhat dystopian: students sit under a poster showing Stalin surrounded by children, located next to another with a wolf trying to kill two little pigs; children eat their meal under a poster instructing ‘eat only from your plate’; or a photograph taken during a sport class where all children synchronically perform the same exercise with a huge portrait of Stalin in the background.

Children playing a game at the district health department

Tura. Children playing a game at the district health department. January 1939. Photo by Ivan Baluev

A group of students during the May Day demonstration

Tura, the Evenk national republic. A group of students during the May Day demonstration. May 1, 1938. Photo by Ivan Baluev

Children at the Turinsk District Health Department

Tura, the Evenk national republic. Children at the Turinsk District Health Department. January 1939. Photo by Ivan Baluev

Lunch in the nursery at the District Health Department

Tura, the Evenk national republic. Lunch in the nursery at the District Health Department. January 1939. Photo by Ivan Baluev

The most touching pictures are probably those where we see groups of children sitting in densely bedded dormitories. Taken away from their families – often involuntarily – children stayed in the residential schools during the academic year and were returned to their parents only for the summer holidays.

The teacher of Letov'e school, Zlobin, meeting the first year Nganasan students who are accompanied by the leader of the Avamo-nganasansk settlement, Baikal, Turdachin

Tajm, Letov'e. The teacher of Letov'e school, Zlobin, meeting the first year Nganasan students who are accompanied by the leader of the Avamo-nganasansk settlement, Baikal, Turdachin

Girls’ bedroom

The Nizhne-tungusk expedition. Girls’ bedroom. 1925

Away from their families, children were expected to develop a sense of belonging to the larger Soviet society with its new system of values. The residential schools were also instrumental in the process of reorganising the indigenous populations of Siberia into cooperative settlements and demolishing their original tribal structures. During the first years of the Soviet Union the State tried to accommodate the educational needs of reindeer herders by initiating an experimental project of nomadic schools, which moved together with the clan, but by the end of the 1930s this practice was terminated. The number of residential schools in various parts of Siberia, on the other hand, reached 20 by 1935. Often reindeer herders chose to stay close to their children instead of continuing the traditional nomadic lifestyle. As a result, the introduction of residential schools greatly decreased the nomadic way of living, and saw indigenous Siberians become more settled.

A man in suit sitting at his desk. The poster in the background reads ‘The diagram showing the growth of the number of schools’

The Nizhne-tungusk expedition. A man in suit sitting at his desk. The poster in the background reads ‘The diagram showing the growth of the number of schools’. 1925

The exhibition ‘Nomadic School’

The exhibition ‘Nomadic School’. 1938. Photo by Ivan Baluev

In the 1990s, several cultural initiatives tried to revive the idea of nomadic schools as a means of restoring traditional lifestyles and culture. Several nomadic schools were successfully organised, for instance, in the Republic of Sakha.

The residential schools continue to run in different part of Siberia, and a basic internet search shows many negative feelings associated with them. The experiences of indigenous peoples in the residential schools are actively explored by contemporary scholars. For example, in the 1990s, Alexia Bloch, an anthropologist from the University of British Columbia, collected accounts of elderly Evenki women, who studied at residential schools. Relying on these records, Bloch conclusively demonstrated a blend of positive feeling about the schools contrasted with ambivalence about the termination of the Soviet colonial project in general. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, many Evenki women recalled their time at the residential schools with a sense of nostalgia for the socialist era.

For many indigenous children, residential schools became a source of radical social mobility within Soviet society. After graduation, young people received an opportunity to continue their studies at university and move to big cities in central Russia, or secure more prestigious jobs back home. We do not know which paths were taken by the children in the photographs in the British Library’s digital collection, and this might be one of the questions which scholars could explore using the BL’s vast visual archive.

Anna Maslenova, British Library PhD placement student working on the project ‘Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples’

References and further reading:

David G. Anderson, ‘The Turukhansk Polar Census Expedition of 1926–1927 at the Crossroads of Two Scientific Traditions’, Sibirica, 5: 1 (2006), pp. 24–61.

David G. Anderson and Craig Campbell, ‘Picturing Central Siberia: The Digitization and Analysis of Early Twentieth-Century Central Siberian Photographic Collections’, Sibirica, 8: 2 (2009), pp. 1–42)

David G. Anderson, Mikhail S. Batashev and Craig Campbell, ‘The photographs of Baluev: capturing the “socialist transformation” of the Krasnoyarsk northern frontier, 1938-1939’ in From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme, ed. by Maja Kominko (Cambridge, 2015), pp. 487–530. ELD.DS.46613

Georgii Vinogradov, Etnografiia detstva i russkaia narodnaia kulʹtura v Sibiri (Moscow, 2009) YF.2011.a.853

«Provintsialʹnaia» nauka: etnografiia v Irkutske v 1920-e gody, ed. by A. Sirina (Irkutsk, 2013).

Olga Laguta and Melissa Shih-hui Lin, ‘Language and Cultural Planning in Siberia: Boarding School System Represented in the Texts of the Siberian Indigenous Writers’, Taiwan Journal of Indigenous Studies, 12: 1 (2019), pp. 1–37.

Sargylana Zhirkova, ‘School on the Move: A Case Study: Nomadic Schooling of the Indigenous Evenk children in the Republic of Sakha Yakutia (Russian Far East)’ (unpublished master’s dissertation, University of Tromsø, 2006)

Alexia Bloch, Red Ties and Residential Schools: Indigenous Siberians in a Post-Soviet State (Philadelphia, 2004). m04/19814

Alexia Bloch, ‘Ideal Proletarians and Children of Nature: Evenki Reimagining Schooling in a Post-Soviet Era’, in Bicultural Education in the North: Ways of Preserving and Enhancing Indigenous Peoples’ Languages and Traditional Knowledge, ed. by Erich Kasten (Münster, 1998), pp. 139–157. m03/16772

Alexia Bloch, ‘Longing for the Kollektiv: Gender, Power, and Residential Schools in Central Siberia’, Cultural Anthropology, 20: 4 (2005), pp. 534–569. 3491.661000

Natalia P. Koptseva, Ksenia V. Reznikova, Natalia N. Pimenova and Anastasia V. Kistova, ‘Cultural and Anthropological Studies of Indigenous Peoples of Krasnoyarsk Krai Childhood (based on the field studies of Siberian Federal University in 2010-2013)’, Journal of Siberian Federal University: Humanities & Social Sciences 8 (2014), pp. 1312–1326.

30 December 2022

An A to Z of the European Studies Blog 2022

A is for Alexander the Great, subject of the Library’s current exhibition

B is for Birds and Bull fighting.

C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.

D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.

E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.

Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger  Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg  1533) C.142.cc.12.

Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.

F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.

G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive! 

H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.

I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.

J is for Jubilees.

Cover of Abetka, a Ukrainian alphabet book for children

Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.

K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.

L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.

M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.

N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.

O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.

Pages from Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico showing letters M and N

Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.

P is for our wonderful PhD researchers, current and future.

Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan. 

R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.

S is for Samizdat and the Library’s Polish Solidarity collection.

T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.

Page from Alphabet Anglois

Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)

U is for Ukrainian collections and our work with Ukrainian partners.

V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar. 

W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.

X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)

Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!

Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.

Church Slavonic alphabet from Azbuka, considered the first dated book printed in Ukraine.

Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)

22 December 2022

Songs, games and fortune telling: the story behind Koliada

Having met some friends on their way to a Christmas carol concert, I thought that maybe it would be interesting to some of our readers to learn what East Europeans sing and recite for Christmas.

The word used for the ritual that happens around this time of the year is koliada, koleda (there are several other variants in Slavonic languages, as well as Lithuanian and Romanian, originating from the Old Church Slavonic form “kolęnda”). It is believed that the word originally comes from Latin “calendae” – the first day of the month – and over the years its initial pagan symbolism merged with the Christian tradition.

The rituals vary significantly among Slavonic and East European cultures, but the most stable elements in all areas include singing special songs, playing games and fortune telling. The celebration combines honouring both darkness and light, but heralds a new beginning. One period of life is complete and comes to an end (darkness), while a new start (star) is about to rise in the sky. Good wishes and a positive mood are shared within a close circle of loved ones, although it is traditionally important to remember deceased ancestors. It was also believed that animals during this time could speak with a human voice, which might be a sign of messages from the ancestors.

All these can be found in one of the most popular Ukrainian songs Oi Syvaia ta i zozulen'ka (commonly translated as “Oh, Grey Cuckoo”), where a cuckoo is going around with best wishes and sending them to the Clear Moon (father of the family), the Red Sun (his wife) and small stars (their children).

Page from Koliadky i shchedrivky with an illustration of a family

Page from Koliadky i shchedrivky

Page from Koliadky i shchedrivky

Koliadky i shchedrivky. (Kyiv, 1991). YA.1996.a.6899

In a modern Belarusian fairy-tale based on the traditional stories, a goat brings joy, prosperity and happiness, so people try to please it with songs and food.

Pages from Kazka pra handliara Piatra, Kazu i Kaliady

I. Kuz’minich. Kazka pra handliara Piatra, Kazu i Kaliady. (Minsk, 2014). YF.2015.a.21355.

A combination of old symbolic beliefs with the new Christian meaning of the celebration is a very distinct feature of many songs. Modern Czech writers continued the tradition of this celebration, creating new poems based on popular texts. As it says in the introduction to the book České vánoce: umění, poesie, tradice, we all become poets at this time of the year.

Koleda by František Jan Vavál

Koleda by František Jan Vavál, from České vánoce: umění, poesie, tradice. (Prague, 1957). YA.1993.b.3196.

Wishing you all to spend this season in a poetic spirit, and – of course – lots of love, happiness and joy.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European collections

02 December 2022

He lived as he taught, and taught as he lived: Ukrainian philosopher and poet Hryhorii Skovoroda

On the night of 7 May 2022 a Russian missile completely destroyed a historic 18th-century building in the small Ukrainian village of Skovorodynivka, situated in a rural area, far from any infrastructure. This building housed the National Literary-Memorial Museum of Hryhorii Skovoroda – a Ukrainian poet and philosopher whose creative legacy consists of philosophical treatises, poems, fables, parables, and translations from Plutarch and Cicero. The house was where Skovoroda worked in the last years of his life. There he died.

The National Literary-Memorial Museum of Hryhorii Skovoroda after a Russian missile strike

The National Literary-Memorial Museum of Hryhorii Skovoroda after a Russian missile strike

Meanwhile this year we mark the 300th anniversary of Hryhorii Skovoroda’s birth on 3 December 1722 to a Cossack family in the small Ukrainian town of Chornukhy. It was a transition period for Ukraine and Ukrainian independence when some old traditions of the Hetman state, which had a wide autonomy, still existed. But this autonomy had been gradually limited by the Russian empire. Just before Skovoroda’s birth Ukrainian printing houses were forbidden by decrees of the Russian Tsar (1720) and the Synod (1721) to publish anything except reprints of old editions which were not supposed to differ in language and even accents from Russian. Certainly, none of Skovoroda’s works were published during his lifetime and thus could not become part of the scholarly discourse of that period.

H. Luk’íanov. Portrait of Hryhorii Skovoroda  1794

H. Luk’íanov. Portrait of Hryhorii Skovoroda, 1794

At the age of 11 Skovoroda was enrolled in the famed Kyiv-Mohyla Academy where he studied poetics, rhetoric and philosophy, as well as Latin, Greek and Hebrew; he read Aristotle, Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, and other classical authors.

From early childhood Skovoroda was musically gifted and he carried a love for music and church singing through his whole life. He played the flute, violin, bandura and harp. Later, in one of his parables Skovoroda wrote: “Music is a great medicine in sorrow, comfort in sadness, fun in happiness.”

At the end of 1745, eager to see foreign lands and to get to know a wider ‘circle of sciences’ Skovoroda travelled to Tokai (Hungary). In the following five years he visited Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, possibly Rome, Venice, and Florence, where he met with scholars, studied philosophy and improved his knowledge of foreign languages. Biographers believe that he also attended German universities, in particular the University of Halle. The German roots of his mystical philosophy were thoroughly studied by Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, one of the best interpreters of Skovoroda’s life and thoughts. Chyzhevs’kyi’s book The Philosophy of H. S. Skovoroda was published in 1934 in Warsaw and also included an analysis of Skovoroda’s poetry. The well-known Ukrainian emigré poet Ievhen Malaniuk wrote that it is difficult to imagine the spiritual life of his generation without this book.

Cover of Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker

Cover of Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker, Harvard series in Ukrainian studies; vol. 18 (Munich, 1974) X.0800/445.(18.)

Chyzhevs’kyi also prepared a German edition of this book. It was supposed to appear in 1946 but was not published until 1974. Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker is different from the Warsaw edition. The author enhanced the biographical materials and added quotes from the texts of German mystics.

After returning to Kyiv in October 1750 Skovoroda taught poetics at the Pereiaslav Collegium, again studied at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and from 1753–1759 worked as a tutor. Then he taught poetics, syntax, Greek, and ethics at the Kharkiv Collegium. His last attempt to teach there in 1768–1769 ended in a conflict with the bishop because Skovoroda’s course on the catechism differed from what was generally accepted. After that he left all positions and became a traveling philosopher and poet.

As a philosopher, he was not so much concerned with the creation of a general world-view. He reflected on ethical issues and mainly focused on the philosophy of happiness, what happiness is and whether everyone can achieve it. Freedom and happiness through knowing oneself were key themes for Skovoroda. He was looking for a new, better world and taught that there is no need to seek happiness in other countries, in other centuries. It is everywhere and always with us; as a fish is in water, so we are in it, and it is near us looking for ourselves. It is nowhere because it is everywhere, similar to sunshine – only open your soul.

Cover of Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Garden of Divine Songs and Collected Poetry

Cover of Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Garden of Divine Songs and Collected Poetry … translated by Michael M. Naydan (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.13622

All of Skovoroda’s writings were preserved in manuscripts. They comprise a collection of poems, The Garden of Divine Songs, fables (Kharkiv Fables) and philosophical treatises often written in the form of dialogues. Only after his death was a dialogue ‘Narcissus. Know thyself’ partly published in St Petersburg in a collection, without specifying the author’s name. The first full edition of works (in two volumes) appeared as late as in 1961 during a short cultural thaw.

The most comprehensive and authentic collection of Skovoroda’s works was published in independent Ukraine under the guidance of the outstanding researcher Leonid Ushkalov. All texts were checked against their manuscripts and quotations were correctly distinguished from the actual author’s text. A detailed and professional commentary adds value to this edition.

At the British Library the most complete collection of Skovoroda’s works (translated into modern Ukrainian) is the two-volume edition prepared by the T. Shevchenko Institute of Literature in Kyiv (1994).

In his poetry Skovoroda developed the same philosophical themes as in his treatises and dialogues. But in the poems they often sound more expressive and emotional. In the ‘Eleventh Song’ from the collection The Garden of Divine Songs he wrote “The spirit in man is an abyss, wider than all the waters and heavens”. Skovoroda was the last and the most prominent poet of the Ukrainian literary baroque, a style characterised by the emphatic use of metaphors and symbols, a variety of rhythms and stanzas.

Wandering folk minstrels sang his poems as songs. They were translated into different languages. The British Library has a Polish translation of some poems made by Jerzy Litwiniuk in an anthology of Ukrainian poetry.

Cover of The Complete Correspondence of Hryhory Skovoroda, Philospher and Poet

Cover of Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Complete Correspondence of Hryhory Skovoroda, Philospher and Poet, translated by Eleonora Adams and Michael M. Naydan ; edited by Liliana M. Naydan; guest introduction by Leonid Rudnytzky (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.21042

A special part of Skovoroda’s legacy are his letters. Most of them (79 letters) were addressed to his best friend Mykhaĭlo Kovalyns’kyi. They were written mainly in Latin and resemble the ‘Moral Letters to Lucilius’ by Roman philosopher Seneca or the Earl of Chesterfield’s letters to his son. Skovoroda advised his friend to read good books, to look for real friends, to listen to exquisite music and to look at the theatre of everyday life from above.

It was Kovalyns’kyi who wrote the first biography of Skovoroda in 1795, just after Skovoroda’s death. However, for almost a century this invaluable source existed only in manuscript and was known only to the philosopher’s friends and admirers. Hryhorii Danylevs’kyi referred to this manuscript in his detailed biography of Skovoroda in 1862. However, Kovalyns’kyi’s memoir was only published as a separate edition in 1894, in Kharkiv.

Cover of Leonid Ushkalov, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda vid A do IA

Cover of Leonid Ushkalov, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda vid A do IA (L’viv, 2019) YF.2019.b.2030

The first modern biography based on different archival sources, which helped to decode many controversial and unclear facts, was published by Leonid Makhnovets (1972). It was very important because various legends had arisen about Skovoroda, even during his own lifetime. The modern Ukrainian writer Valeriĭ Shevchuk wrote a comprehensive biography combined with an analysis of Skovoroda’s poetry, fables and letters (2008). Leonid Ushkalov’s scrupulous biography (2017) contains numerous references to works, people and the environment in which Skovoroda lived. It creates a vivid image of 18th-century Ukraine. Ushkalov also wrote a monograph on the literature and philosophy of the Ukrainian Baroque, largely based on the works of Skovoroda, and compiled a beautiful illustrated edition for children (2019).

The British Library contains books in different languages about Skovoroda, including a monograph by Elisabeth von Erdmann, a German professor of Slavic Studies, which places him in the tradition of philosophia perennis. This enabled a transparent and coherent reading of his writings in the contexts of the Baroque and Enlightenment eras and of Europe’s cultural and religious history.

Cover of Elisabeth von Erdmann, Unähnliche Ähnlichkeit...

Cover of Elisabeth von Erdmann, Unähnliche Ähnlichkeit: die Onto-Poetik des ukrainischen Philosophen Hryhorij Skovoroda (1722-1794). Bausteine zur slavischen Philologie und Kulturgeschichte. Reihe A, Slavistische Forschungen; n.F., Bd. 49 (Cologne, 2005) ZA.9.a.4768(49)

As well as his writings another no less valuable part of Skovoroda’s legacy was his way of life, with conscious rejection of the temptations of the world. He lived very simply, and had no family or permanent home. He gave priority to personal spiritual freedom, taught a true Christian attitude to life and showed how to be satisfied with the simple joys of life. In his own life Skovoroda followed what he taught. It can be said of him: “He lived as he taught, and taught as he lived”.

Nadiia Strishenets, Leading Researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Academy Fellow

References/Further reading

Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Filʹosofiia H.S. Skovorody = La philosophie de Grégoire Skovoroda (Warsaw, 1934) Ac.1147.d.

Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker, Harvard series in Ukrainian studies; vol. 18 (Munich, 1974) X.0800/445.(18.)

Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, Tvory u dvokh tomakh, ed. Mykola Zhulynsʹkyĭ et al. Kyïvsʹka biblioteka davnʹoho ukraïnsʹkoho pysʹmenstva. Studiï; t. 5-6 (Kyiv, 2005) ZF.9.a.3589

Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Garden of Divine Songs and Collected Poetry … translated by Michael M. Naydan ; with an introduction by Valery Shevchuk ; translations edited by Olha Tytarenko (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.13622

Od Iłariona do Skoworody: antologia poezji ukraińskiej XI-XVIII w.. ed. Włodzimierz Mokry (Kraków, 1996) YF.2010.a.22281

Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Complete Correspondence of Hryhory Skovoroda, Philospher and Poet, translated by Eleonora Adams and Michael M. Naydan ; edited by Liliana M. Naydan; guest introduction by Leonid Rudnytzky (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.21042

Orest Khaliavskiĭ [i.e. Hryhorii Danylevs’kyi]. ‘Skovoroda, Ukrainskiĭ pisatel XVIII veka’, Osnova, 1862, No. 8, pp. 1–39 and No. 9, pp. 39–96 

Hryhorii Skovoroda: Vybrani tvory v dvokh tomakh / [Uporiadkuvannia, pidhotovka tekstiv ta prymitky B. A. Derkacha.] (Kyiv, 1972) X.989/26377

Leonid Makhnovets, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda (Kyiv, 1972) X.519/15878.

Valeriĭ Shevchuk, Piznanyĭ i nepiznanyĭ sfinks: Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda suchasnymy ochyma: rozmysly (Kyiv, 2008) YF.2008.a.38916

Leonid Ushkalov, Lovytva nevlovnoho ptakha: zhyttia Hryhoriia Skovorody (Kyiv, 2017) YF.2017.a.17493

Leonid Ushkalov, Literatura i filosofiia: doba ukraïnsʹkoho baroko. Sloboz︠h︡ansʹkyĭ svit; 13 (Kharkiv, 2019) YF.2020.a.8355

Leonid Ushkalov, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda vid A do IA (L’viv, 2019) YF.2019.b.2030

Elisabeth von Erdmann, Unähnliche Ähnlichkeit: die Onto-Poetik des ukrainischen Philosophen Hryhorij Skovoroda (1722-1794). Bausteine zur slavischen Philologie und Kulturgeschichte. Reihe A, Slavistische Forschungen; n.F., Bd. 49 (Cologne, 2005) ZA.9.a.4768(49)

Skovoroda, philosophe Ukrainien... : colloque tenu le 18 janvier 1973 à l'Institut d'études slaves de Paris à l'occasion du 250e anniversaire de la naissance de Skovoroda (1722-1972). Collection historique de l’Institut d’études slaves; 23) (Paris, 1976) Ac:8808.d/2[23]

Hryhorij Savyč Skovoroda: an anthology of critical articles, ed. Richard H. Marshall, Jr. and Thomas E. Bird (Edmonton, 1994) YC.2019.a.10287

Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, 1722-1794: bibliohrafichnyĭ pokazhchyk (Kyiv, 2002) YF.2004.a.2767

28 November 2022

Stanisław Wyspiański: Shades of Melancholia

‘November is a difficult time for Poland’ Stanisław Wyspiański wrote in his play Noc listopadowa (November Night). Wyspiański, was a versatile and prolific artist – playwright, poet and theatre director – one of the generations of artists who grew up in the partitioned land.

Cover of Stanisław Wyspiański, Noc listopadowa. Sceny dramatyczne

Cover of Stanisław Wyspiański, Noc listopadowa. Sceny dramatyczne (Kraków 1904). Shelfmark: X.909/354.

The 11th month of the year – listopad, literally leaf-fall – is a time of particular significance in Polish culture and history. The month of the fallen leaves witnessed the November Uprising or the Cadet Revolution (1830–31) against the Russian Empire when Poland was partitioned. It was in November when finally, after 123 years, Poland regained its independence following the First World War.

There is something fascinating about the approaching darkness and nature’s hibernation that appealed to Polish imagination and Wyspiański could definitely feel the ambiguous allure of the cold month. In November 1901 Wyspiański lost his father Franciszek, a renowned sculptor and an alcoholic struggling with mental issues. Stanisław was only too familiar with death from his early years. As a child he lost a younger brother and soon after, when the boy was only seven, his mother succumbed to tuberculosis. His own struggle with a deadly disease – he suffered from syphilis – is thought to have played a substantial role in his artistic proliferation. After the diagnosis Wyspiański worked tirelessly until his death. He was burning through life with an exhaustive energy, with a constant awareness of its finality, with gusto characteristic for the Young Poland modernist era, flavoured with Nietzscheanism.

The artist’s life was marked by emotional and complicated relationships with women. His mother and an aunt who brought him up both had a profound impact on his life. While living with his aunt Stanisław came in contact with Jan Matejko, one of the most celebrated Polish painters, who gave him art lessons and later invited the young man to work for him. Last, but not least in a long line of Wyspiański’s women, was Teodora Pytko, a servant whom he married causing a stir in Krakow’s social circle and a fallout with the aunt.

Jan Matejko, Polonia

Jan Matejko, Polonia, 1864, National Museum in Kraków.

Wyspiański’s childhood was spent in the Austrian partition. His father studio sat a few feet away from the Wawel Royal Castle in Kraków, a symbol of the Polish grandiose past. The imposing structure, in a state of disrepair, full of memories evoking melancholy, was a former seat of the Polish kings degraded to serve as a barracks for Austro-Hungarian troops. This is how Stanisław describes it in one of his lyrics:

At the foot of Wawel my father’s atelier was placed.
A great white vaulted chamber,
Animated by a crowd of images of the dead;
There, as a little boy I wandered, and what I felt,
Later I forged in the shapes of my art.
At the time, by emotion only, and not rational understanding,
I grasped the outlines, moulded in clay,
Which grew before my eyes into giants:
Statues, carved in lime wood.

From Stanisław Wyspiański, Acropolis: the Wawel plays; translated from the Polish and introduced by Charles S. Kraszewski, (London 2017). YC.2019.a.2648

Wyspiański grew up dreaming of becoming one of the artists chosen to restore the Royal Castle to its former glory. A dream that despite many efforts has never come to fruition. The painter’s stained-glass designs, meant for the Wawel Cathedral, were rejected by the church authorities. Wyspiański’s thought-provoking depiction of Saint Stanislaus, a national hero, crushed by his coffin alluded to the playwright’s conviction the saint’s cult was partly responsible for Poland’s downfall.

Unrealised stained-glass design for the chancel of Wawel Cathedral

Unrealised stained-glass design for the chancel of Wawel Cathedral, 1900: Prince Henry the Pious, National Museum in Kraków, in Young Poland: the Polish Arts and Crafts movement, 1890-1918, edited by Julia Griffin and Andrzej Szczerski (London 2020). YC.2022.b.346

A childhood spent in a place where walls permeated history, gazing at the striking stronghold, wandering around Kraków’s Main Market Square surrounded by the city hustle and bustle resulted in a deep love and attachment to his home town and played an immense part in the artist’s journey. Four of the playwright’s dramatic works deal with Wawel: Legenda II, Bolesław Śmiały, Skałka and Akropolis.

Wyspiański’s stage costume designs

Wyspiański’s stage costume designs

Wyspiański’s stage costume designs. Stanisław Wyspiański, Stanisław Wyspiański, myśli i obrazy (Olszanica, 2008). YF.2009.b.2095

Charles S. Kraszewski in the introduction to his English translation of the artist’s works remarks: ‘Wyspiański introduces his “eternal” characters neither from the pages of Christian hagiography, nor from the theories of psychoanalysis, but rather from the traditions of Polish/Cracovian legend, as a way of understanding what it means to be “Polish” in Europe where the country that bears the name no longer exists’.

Model based on Stanisław Wyspiański and Władysław Ekielski’s ‘Acropolis’ design for the renovation and expansion of Wawel

Model based on Stanisław Wyspiański and Władysław Ekielski’s ‘Acropolis’ design for the renovation and expansion of Wawel, 1907. National Museum in Kraków, in Young Poland,  YC.2022.b.346

Wyspiański’s works were a reflection of his identity. Myths, legends and symbols infuse his plays, scenography, paintings and drawings. A Renaissance man, Wyspiański excelled in many forms of art. He was a visionary who made his mark on Polish theatre, poetry, typography, applied art, design and painting. He passed away prematurely, departing together with the autumn leaves on 28 November 1907.

Wawel Wyspianski

Stanisław Wyspiański, Morning at the Foot of Wawel Hill, 1984. National Museum in Kraków

Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Further reading:

Stanislaw Wyspiański, The wedding: a drama in three acts (London 1998). ELD.DS.551705

Stanislaw Wyspiański, The Return of Odysseus. A Drama in three acts (Bloomington 1966). Shelfmark: Ac.2692.w/16.

Stanisław Wyspiański - Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis: the neighbouring of cultures, the borderlines of arts, editor-in-chief Wiesna Mond-Kozłowska (Kraków 2012), EMD.2017.b.6

The Culture.pl website

 

22 November 2022

British Library East View e-resources now available remotely

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.

Screenshot of the East View Global Elections Archive

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.

Screenshot of the British Library page explaining how to access e-resources on a personal device

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)

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

28 September 2022

Cassandra by Lesia Ukrainka: a UK premiere

Last November, the British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, hosted an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian writer and poet Lesia Ukrainka. Alongside a captivating panel discussion, Olesya Khromeychuk, Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, announced the winner of the Institute’s inaugural Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. First prize was awarded to translator and poet Nina Murray for her translation from Ukrainka’s poetic drama Cassandra.

Print of Cassandra by Francis Legat after George Romney

Francis Legat after George Romney, Cassandra Raving (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 2) first published 1795, Print. The Met

First published in 1908, Ukrainka’s drama retells the story of the Trojan war through the eyes of Cassandra, the fiery prophetess who persists in fighting for the truth when no one will believe her. An extract from Nina Murray’s translation of Cassandra appeared in the second issue of the London Ukrainian Review in August, and the full text will be published by Harvard University Press next year.

Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem. Translated by Nina Murray

Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem. Translated by Nina Murray. Awaiting publication. 

The publisher’s website describes the forthcoming work as follows:

Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem encapsulates the complexities of Ukrainka’s late works: use of classical mythology and her intertextual practice; intense focus on issues of colonialism and cultural subjugation—and allegorical reading of the asymmetric relationship of Ukrainian and Russian culture; a sharp commentary on patriarchy and the subjugation of women; and the dilemma of the writer-seer who knows the truth and its ominous implications but is powerless to impart that to contemporaries and countrymen.

This strongly autobiographical work commanded a significant critical reception in Ukraine and projects Ukrainka into the new Ukrainian cultural canon. Presented here in a contemporary and sophisticated English translation attuned to psychological nuance, it is sure to attract the attention of the modern-day reader.

Poster for the Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London production of Cassandra

Poster for the Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London production of Cassandra

Ukrainka’s Cassandra has astounding relevance at this time of war, and Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London will present the play for the first time on the UK stage, in Nina Murray’s award winning translation. Directed by Helen Eastman, the production will run from 4-16 October 2022 at Omnibus Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Theatre’s website. There will be a post-show Q&A on Sunday 9 October (free to ticket holders). 

Additional reading and resources

Lesia Ukrainka at 150: A journey through the British Library collections (Part I) 

Lesia Ukrainka at 150: A journey through the British Library collections (Part II) 

Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013 

Recording of ‘The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka’ which was held at the British Library in November 2021 

The London Ukrainian Review 

Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021 

Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020 

Lesya Ukrainka. Life and work by Constantine Bida. Selected works, translated by Vera Rich. (Toronto, 1968). X.900/3941. An electronic copy of Vera Rich’s translation of Cassandra is available. 

Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandre: Poème dramatique. Traduit de l'ukrainien, préfacé et annoté par Andry Swirko. (Brussels, 1973). X.909/27847.

Lesia Ukrainka, Dramatychni tvory (Kyiv, 2008). YF.2009.a.24435

05 September 2022

Remembering Mikhail Gorbachev

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.

Cover of Christian Schmidt-Haüer. Gorbachev: The path to Power

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.

Cover of M. Gorbachev. The Results and Lessons of Reykjavik

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.

Cover of Zhores Medvedev. Gorbachev

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.

Cover of How should America respond to Gorbachev's challenge: a report of the Task Force on Soviet New Thinking

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

Cover of Inny Gorbaczow

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

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.

Cover of Conversations with Gorbachev

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

Further reading:

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.

24 August 2022

Remembering historians of Ukraine on the Day of National Independence

On 24 August 1991, Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union by passing the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine. On this day, we are exploring our collection of works by Ukrainian historians who contributed to Ukrainian scholarship and Ukrainian identity.

Samiilo Velychko and Hryhorii Hrabianka could be considered the first named historians of Ukraine. Although they still wrote their works in a chronicle style, they are distinctly different from the earlier anonymous work Litopys Samovydtsia (‘The Eyewitness Chronicle’) that described events in Ukraine from the outbreak of the Khmelnytsky revolt in 1648 until 1702. All three authors had their social roots in the Cossack officer class and their works are often referred to as ‘Cossack chronicles’. However, Samovidets’ (‘the eyewitness’) was the only one who had personal knowledge of the Khemelnitsky era. Both – Velychko and Hrabianka – came from the next generation. Their narratives include not only annual accounts of events, but also their own interpretations, memoirs and documents. The manuscripts of Velychko’s Litopys show that it is a unique example of historical reflection on the past. This is no longer a chronicle, or a collection and compilation, but a historical study, united by a common idea, approach and methodology.

The Cossack chronicles have been published several times since 1840s, and the British Library holds some of the most important editions.

Image 1- Screenshot 2022-08-23 085606-Litopys Samovidtsia

The Eyewitness Chronicle - facsimile of the manuscript folio

Image 2 - Untitled_23082022_083937-Hrabianka YA.2003.a.30504

A page from the 2001 edition of Hrabianka’s Historiia (Hystoriia ... H. Hrab’ianky ; Lietopis kratkii. Zhytomyr, 2001. YA.2003.30504)

Title page of the first edition of Velichko’s Litopys

Title page of the first edition of Velychko’s Litopys (Kyiv, 1848). Ac.7870/5.

Facsimile of the title page of the manuscript

Facsimile of the title page of the manuscript

Portrait of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi

Facsimile of one of the images in the Velychko’s manuscript – portrait of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi

Like in many other countries in Europe, Ukrainian scholarly historical research reached a new level in the 19th century. Mykola Kostomarov was a historian by training. He graduated from Kharkiv University and in 1846 was appointed assistant professor at Kyiv University. We have numerous editions of his works, including the beautifully printed Slavianskaia mifologiia (‘Slavonic mythology’).

Page from Kostomarov’s Slavianskaia mifologiia

Kostomarov’s Slavianskaia mifologiia (Kyiv, 1847) 4504.h.20

Some important aspects of Kostomarov's life and work can be studied through the Endangered Archives Programme collection (EAP657), as digitised copies of archival Russian Imperial polices files on the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius can be accessed from anywhere in the world. The original documents are held at the National Taras Shevchenko Museum in Ukraine. Kostomarov’s involvement in the Brotherhood resulted in his arrest and exile.

Image 7 -Screenshot 2022-08-23 123140 - archive

Case relating to the forbidding and withdrawal from sale of some works by Shevchenko, Kulish and Kostomarov [30 Jun 1847 - Mar 1849] 

If Kostomarov laid the foundations for Ukrainian national historiography, the researcher and prominent political and civic leader Mykhailo Hrushevsky made the most fundamental contribution to Ukrainian scholarship by writing a 10 volume history of Ukraine. Thanks to another EAP project (EAP900), free open access to the full run of the Papers of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in Lviv, where Hrushevsky was an active member, is also available from the British Library website.

Many prominent historians of Ukraine contributed to the Harvard series in Ukrainian studies and other publications by Harvard University, which, of course, would be easier to find in our online catalogue, and the most recent works are available as e-books from our Reading Rooms, like, for example, Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine.

Cover of Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine

Cover of Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (London, 2015). YC.2017.a.1703 and ELD.DS.188427

This is probably the most popular English-language book about Ukraine today. Whichever book you choose, let us mark Ukrainian Independence Day by learning about Ukraine’s rich history and by celebrating the brilliant scholars who studied it.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Central, East European and Slavonic Collections

Further reading:

M. IU Braichevsʹkyi, Annexation or reunification: critical notes on one conception; translated and edited by George P. Kulchycky (Munich, 1974) W39/2929

Dmytro Doroshenko, History of the Ukraine; translated from the Ukranian and abridged by Hanna Chikalenko- Keller ; edited and introduction by G.W. Simpson (Edmonton, 1939) YA.2003.a.10952

Ivan Dziuba, Internationalism or Russification? A study in the Soviet nationalities problem, 3rd edition (New York ; London, 1974) X.709/30122

Hryhorij Hrabjanka, The great war of Bohdan Xmelʹnycʹkyj, with an introduction by Yuri Lutsenko. ([Cambridge, Mass.], 1990) YC.1993.b.1849

M. Hrushevsʹkyi, Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusy : v odynadtsiaty tomakh, dvanadtsiaty knyhakh. (Kyiv, 1991-2000). ZA.9.a.8256

Kostomarov's “Books of Genesis of the Ukrainian People,” with a commentary by B. Yanivs'kyi. (New York, 1954). 10293.e.11/60.

Oleksander Ohloblyn, Arkadii Zhukovsky and Serhiy Bilenky. ‘Historiography’ in Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine 

Omeljan Pritsak, Istoriosofiia ta istoriohrafiia Mykhaila Hrushevsʹkoho. (Kyiv, 1991) YA.1996.a.7702

The Eyewitness Chronicle, with an editor’s preface by Omeljan Pritsak (Munich, 1972) X.0800/445(7/1)

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