Last month, a new project launched across the Russian-speaking internet to present the story behind the Russian Revolution through a decidedly modern lens.
Built by a group of Russian journalists, historians and more, “1917: Free history” aims to bring back the real memories of the people who lived through that time, leaving the interpretation up to the readers. The web documentary emulates a social media page, with posts and comments by historical characters and articles printed 100 years ago.
Some posts have hashtags related to prominent storylines - like “Fire the Prime Minister” or “Everyone against Rasputin” -to help readers navigate the complex reality of 1917. The readers can also play games on the site, like "ask a question to Rasputin," or practice criticizing Russian avant-garde using real quotes from the critiques. Along with the website, which is the project’s centerpiece, it also has pages on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Telegram and VK, Russia’s most popular social network (especially among students).
The project’s original idea belongs to Mikhail Zygar, a well-known Russian journalist and author of “All the Kremlin’s Men.” In an interview with Meduza, he confessed that the revolution of 1917 has always been his favorite time in history. After growing disenchanted with covering current news, he decided to dive into this period, show it to the public in a more accessible way and draw in people who never read history books before.
To recreate the “newsfeed” of 100 years ago, the project employed close to 100 specialists — mostly journalists, but also several professional historians, as well as photo and video editors, animators and designers. Yandex, Russia’s internet giant, and VK handled the project’s technical aspects.
Supplying reliable content and choosing sources were the hardest parts. The method can be likened to snowball sampling in social sciences: it began with the original small team writing down 100 “superstars” - the historical figures who had to be featured. Then the list grew to 300, as it had to encompass not only the parliament, the royal court and the revolutionary circles, but also the military, the art scene and a few dozen foreigners.
The characters were then divided among the bigger team of researchers. The writers collected letters, diaries, memoirs, works of art or other documents left by each character. It quickly became evident that the project would need to accommodate not just the leading characters, but also all of the people associated with them. Another discovery was that many historical personalities did not leave their own diaries or memoirs, but feature extensively in the writings of the people who were close to them.
Most of this research was done in libraries and archives - as a result, the project now features many writings that have never been published before, or never translated into Russian. The characters’ writings had to be adapted to the social media format - researchers were allowed to cut out some parts of the documents they were publishing, or divide one long letter or diary entry into several posts, but could not alter them in any other way.
The final product of a researcher's work was a text document that showed the “personal information” of each character structured, like a social media profile, into categories like name, date of birth, hometown, education, work, current place of living, marital status and friends. Then followed the “posts” - quotes from the documentary sources, complete with the date (sometimes also the time), location and source. In cases when it was not possible to date an entry precisely, it would be allocated to the middle of the period when it was written (e.g. Nov. 15th, 1917 if “November 1917” is the most precise date one can get).
The project didn’t use any specific management tool to coordinate the research - only Slack for communicating and a Google spreadsheet for keeping track of progress. Each team member could see which characters he or she had been allocated and mark those that were finished. The editorial team worked - like in a newsroom - on planning each article’s publication and identifying missing parts (for example, certain important events the characters should have reacted to).
By the date of the public launch, about 1,500 people were listed on the site’s “characters” page. To ease navigation, many characters were moved into a newly created category - “invisible.” This way, readers would not be confused by hundreds of unfamiliar names or empty profiles.
“Project 1917” was promoted through social media. VK collaborated with the team and created a number of profiles of the project’s characters on its pages for more interactiveness. This way, the social media users could add them to their newsfeeds, and send them messages. To date, Nicholas II has received quite a few warnings of his imminent death - and one middle school teacher has written the project a message, expressing her gratitude for getting her students to read turn-of-the-century poetry they ignored in textbooks.
Currently, the “Project 1917” editorial team plans to continue their educational work throughout this year by collaborating with exhibition spaces and theatres (Kirill Serebrennikov, Moscow’s most controversial director, is already working on a play based on the project’s material).
Click on the link below to review the Project 1917 web site:
New Website Captures 150 Years of Russian History in 80,000 Photos Topic: Russian History
An interactive visual history of post-1860 Russia goes online, and includes
thousands of images of Imperial Russia, including photos of the Russian Imperial family.
The Moscow Multimedia Art Museum announced the launch of a new portal, History of Russia in Photographs, which exhibits about 80,000 photos dating from 1860 to 2000. The collection will be expanded daily.
The museum's director, Olga Sviblovo, said the portal's goal is to unite all museum and private photo collections in order to create a "visual Wikipedia on Russian history in photos."
The site is a sort of photography bank, very easy and convenient to use. To visually study a section of time one does not need to know Russian. It is enough just to move two cursors on "the plate of time" onto the period of interest and all the photos corresponding to the request will appear on the main page.
"We're now developing the site's English version and perfecting the auto translator because searching on the site is done through tags," explained Sviblova. "There are already more than 10,000 of them. For example, type in the tag 'boutonnière' and you can see a photo of poet Alexander Blok wearing one on his jacket."
"We began thinking of such a portal in 1999 because we understood how important it would be to create a photographic history for future generations," continued Sviblovo. "You cannot build the future without knowing your past."
The project cooperates with all of Moscow's museums and the state archive, as well as with regional museums and the heirs of famous Russian photographers.
In addition, visitors to the site can post their own photos, enhance the images and act as curators by creating their own exhibitions with accompanying texts and comments.
Click on the link below to visit the web site and review thousands of photographs:
Day of the Russian Guard Marked by State Hermitage Museum Topic: Russian History
The Admiralty Orchestra of the Leningrad Naval Base play marches during the opening ceremony held in the General Staff Building
On September 2, 2015, the State Hermitage Museum held a solemn ceremony marking the Day of the Russian Guard. A solemn ceremony was held in the General Staff Building, which is located opposite the State Hermitage on Palace Square. The eastern wing of the General Staff Building was given to the Hermitage Museum in 1993 and was extensively remodelled inside.
George V. Vilinbakhov, Deputy General Director of the State Hermitage for Research, opened the ceremony in the rooms that host the Museum of the Russian Guard. The exhibition - The Russian Guard 18th Century was opened in December 2014. The permanent exhibit showcases uniforms, weapons, flags and gifts - precious relics preserved by the descendants of Russian officers who lived in exile and returned to Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. On Wednesday, the museum was updated with a new exhibit Waterloo, dedicated to the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars.
During the ceremony marking the Day of the Russian Guard, the Admiralty Orchestra of the Leningrad Naval Base, under the direction of the famous Russian conductor Valentine Lyashenko, played military marches, including The Life Guards March of the Semenovsky Life-Guards regiment, and the Old Jaeger March.
The State Hermitage Museum is not only a great cultural center of the world, but also one of the largest military-historical museums, preserving the memory of Russian military history. The museum has a large collection of banners, weapons, uniforms, paintings and prints battle genre, portraits of war. This allows the State Hermitage to not only host large-scale exhibitions, but also to conduct ceremonies dedicated to Russian military history.
Lithuania Says Russia Illegitimate After Murder of Tsar Topic: Russian History
The Seimas, the parliament of Lithuania, may apply to the Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office to get the answer “on the legality of Russia”, Joinfo.ua reports. Vytautas Landsbergis, the first head of post-Soviet Lithuania, urged politicians to ignore any initiatives of Russia related to clarifying the legality of withdrawal of the Baltic countries from the USSR.
He believes that Lithuania should not enter such disputes. Landsbergis is sure that Moscow is once again trying so “provoke some controversy.”
Lithuanian politicians, as well as members of the parliament of the Republic of Lithuania could also apply to the Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office to get the answer “on the legality of Russia,” he said.
“Because Russia is likely illegal – it overthrew the tsar, murdered him and his children, and it is a legitimate state?” said the former head of Lithuania.
The Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite also criticized the Russian authorities, noting that the decision of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to verify the legitimacy of recognition of the Baltic republics as independent states was a provocation.
Aurora: The Cruiser That Sparked a Revolution - or did it? Topic: Russian History
Imperial Russian cruiser Aurora
November 7 marked the 97th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Visitors to St. Petersburg keen to see the famous ship that fired the shot that supposedly began the revolution will be disappointed, however – the cruiser Aurora was towed out of the city in September to be overhauled. RBTH looks back at the history of the ship and its role in the legend of 1917.
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the November 7th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Sofia Savina, owns the copyright of the work presented below.
To read the full article, please refer to the following link in the Royal Russia News section of our web site:
Legendary Imperial Russian Cruiser Aurora Towed to Kronstadt for Repairs Now Playing: Language: NA. Duration: 2 minutes, 16 seconds Topic: Russian History
Aerial filming shows tug boats towing the cruiser Aurora along the Neva River in central St. Petersburg, September 21, 2014. The former cruiser, which was used during the Russian-Japanese War in 1904-05 and the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, was towed to Kronstadt for planned repair works.
The legendary Russian battle cruiser Aurora has been towed from its traditional post in St. Petersburg to the Kronstadt shipyard for repairs, ITAR-TASS reports. For the first time since 1987, when the museum-ship was last repaired, residents St. Petersburg had the opportunity to watch the Aurora be towed by tugboats under overhanging arms of Troitsky, Dvortsovy and Blagoveshchensky bridges. Tugboats towed the cruiser to a dockyard of Kronshtadt maritime plant for a distance of 40 kilometers.
Defence Ministry hopes that the cruiser will return to its ‘eternal mooring’ berth at the Petrograd embankment after the overhaul in 2016. Deadlines for repairs will be announced after the ship is docked and the underwater part of its hull is examined, chief of the culture department of Defence Ministry Anton Gubankov said.
The Imperial Russian cruiser Aurora being towed along the Neva towards Kronstadt
After the overhaul an exposition on board the museum-ship will almost double, meanwhile, the 1917 events, including the October Revolution, will cease to be its main topic, Ruslan Nekhai, director of the Central Naval Museum, announced earlier.
In the previous year the warship celebrated the 110th anniversary of its commissioning. The gun cruiser was on combat duty in the Navy for almost half a century from 1903 to 1948, fighting in the battles of the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, the Great Patriotic War and the 1917 revolutionary events.
In 1948 the battle cruiser was moored at the Petrograd embankment and has served as a training base for Leningrad Nakhimov Naval Academy up to 1956. In 1957 cruiser Aurora was turned in a museum ship, hosting a branch of the Central Naval Museum. In 1992 the St. Andrew naval flag was hoisted aboard the warship. Now the cruiser is registered in Culture Ministry as a federal cultural heritage site.
The Imperial Porcelain Factory: Three Centuries of Russian Fine China Topic: Russian History
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the September 18th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Nina Freiman, owns the copyright of the work presented below.
The Imperial Porcelain Factory, Russia’s oldest producer of fine china, turns 270 years on Sept.18. The creations of its masters are exhibited in the world’s best museums, sold at high-profile auctions, and set on the tables of international summits. RBTH finds out how the company began and how it acquired the secret of porcelain production from China.
This month marks the 270th anniversary of one of Russia’s most cherished institutions, the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg. Yet although the name of the factory has become synonymous in Russia with fine china and tableware, the story of the company’s origins and how it acquired the secret of porcelain production from the Chinese are not so well known.
The Imperial Porcelain Factory was founded in 1744 at the order of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, the daughter of Peter I. Elizaveta invited Saxon specialist Christopher Hunger to start the factory. His assistant was Dmitry Vinogradov, one of the first Russian chemists and associate of renowned Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov.
Hunger turned out to be a charlatan – not only did he not invent Russian porcelain, but he even failed to replicate German fine china. He only managed to manufacture six cups, and low quality ones at that. Hunger was driven out in the fall of 1746, and Vinogradov took his place. From formula to production Vinogradov deduced the treasured porcelain formula soon after, in January 1747. How did he uncover the secret so thoroughly protected in Europe and China in just a few months?
From formula to production
Vinogradov deduced the treasured porcelain formula soon after, in January 1747. How did he uncover the secret so thoroughly protected in Europe and China in just a few months?
According to modern historian Konstantin Pisarenko, the secret was spirited from China by ensign Alexei Vladykin, who spoke Chinese perfectly, was involved in trade (and, of course, intelligence), and spent time in the company of Chinese ministers.
Vladykin learned the secret behind porcelain production from a Chinese document back in 1741, but he was only able to bring it to Russia in 1746.
Vinogradov’s factory started manufacturing fine china according to the recipe provided by Vladykin, and the teacups turned out to be on a par with their Chinese counterparts.
Although Vinogradov was glorified as the inventor, he did not forget Vladykin, whom he promoted and placed at the head of the next trade caravan to China.
Porcelain cemetery and the subway
In the nearly 300 years of its existence, the factory has expanded to five-and-a-half hectares and influenced the local toponymy: It is neighbored by the Farforovskaya Railway Station (farfor is the Russian word for porcelain), the Farforovskoye Cemetery, and the Farforovsky Overpass. The St. Petersburg subway station closest to the factory was also named in its honor: Lomonosovskaya (the factory was called Lomonosov during Soviet times).
According to Tatyana Tylevich, general director of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, the enterprise currently employs around 1,200 people. There are three workshops: one for soft-paste porcelain (animalistic sculpture), one for hard-paste porcelain, and one for bone china (items made of bone china are so thin that they literally shine in the light).
The factory’s main European competitors are British producer Wedgwood and German manufacturer Meissen. However, these companies transferred production to South-East Asia long ago, leaving just the brand and design in Europe.
“The Imperial Factory is one of the few in Europe that has not moved its production facilities to other regions,” Tylevich said. “Our products can’t be torn away from the place where they have been manufactured for 270 years,” she added.
But while the factory’s management, equipment, and manpower are Russian, its raw materials are imported from abroad – from Ukraine, to be exact. When the Ukrainian crisis began, the factory was forced to procure a year ahead. “We’re looking forward to a rapid conclusion to this conflict. We had several stores in Ukraine,” Tylevich said. “Now they’ve suspended their operations, but their owners are focused on future cooperation,” she added.
A jack of all trades Even though she has been working with porcelain for as long as she can remember and has been with the factory for 40 years, Nelya Petrova, the Imperial Factory’s chief artist, admits that porcelain is a capricious material. One has to take into account 13-14 percent shrinkage, possible deformation during firing, and of course, the fact that paints require various firing temperatures.
“You can do a lot of things with porcelain; for example, a table or chandelier. We have an artist who can improvise a whole dress from pieces of porcelain,” Petrova said. “The material isn’t good except for jewelry. It’s too fragile,” she added.
Porcelain masters have their own professional language. For example, they refer to white glazed unpainted porcelain as “white ware.” Unglazed porcelain is called “bisque,” and in its liquid state it is called “slurry.”
Slurry, by the way, which is reminiscent of cocoa in terms of color and texture, is poured into porous plaster molds. Each sculpture requires several molds; for example, one for the head and one for the body. When the slurry solidifies, the parts of the sculpture are combined and sent away for firing.
The drawings on the cups and saucers seem completely black at first, but they turn gold after hours in the oven. This gold never fades, even after many years. Despite its deceptive fragility, fine china can survive for hundreds of years and stand the test of history, with all its quirks and kinks.
The Lost Miracle of Russia's Medieval Sword Makers Topic: Russian History
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the June 23rd, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Alexander Vershinin, owns the copyright of the version presented below.
The sword has always carried a special status in Russia. It was passed on as a symbol of power, vows were sworn on it, and it even served as currency. Above all, the sword was a formidable weapon, and the perfection of the medieval Russian masters in its creation had few rivals.
Russian chronicles are heavy with references to swords. Russian Princes’ men-at-arms were buried with their trusty blades, and Prince Svyatoslav of Kiev famously cast his sword into the Dnieper River to deny it to the enemy.
Slav swords were prized around the world. Arab scribes rated them alongside Frankish examples above any other type in Europe, and Eastern admirers even believed Russian swords to be “miraculous", possessed of magical powers.
Russia was the first country in Europe after Charlemagne’s medieval empire to set up the organized production of blades. Bearing the individual blacksmith’s mark of quality, the Russian sword was typically around 40 inches (100 cm) long, its blade measuring 2-2.75 inches (5-7 cm) wide and 0.25 inches (6 mm) thick.
The tip was not initially sharpened, since a heavy blow was enough to cleave the toughest armor. Swords were sold individually since not every soldier had the necessary skill or strength to wield the heavy blade effectively.
Moreover, only the wealthiest people could afford these swords due to the complexity and cost of working with Damascus steel. For them, a fine example was worth as much as a war horse.
Due to its higher carbon content and special forging process, a Damascus steel sword had a distinctive surface pattern and particular strength. It could hack through iron and would not break even if severely deformed. But since the steel did not react well to low temperatures it was unsuited to Russia’s climatic conditions.
To solve the problem, Russian blacksmiths twisted together steel rods that were then hammered. Repeated ten times, the process yielded a Damascus steel sword with extra strength and flexibility.
Long strips of iron were then welded to them to produce a blank blade to finish. Practically corrosion proof, these blades would go blunt but not break and would quickly resume their form if bent.
A quality blade was judged by ear, a slight tap resonating long and clear. The sword was also expected to cleanly cut strips of thin fabric in mid-air.
In one testimony to their strength and reputation, the Crimean Khan, a renowned connoisseur of weapons in the 15th century, also had a Muscovite prince send him a suit of armor made of Damascus steel.
Producing quality swords was like the precision work of a jeweler. Iron and steel react at different temperatures, demanding incredible skill from the blacksmith. And although they worked with only a hammer and anvil in the 10th century, their swords were still superior to all others.
Centuries later, historians and scientists remained skeptical that Slav craftsmen had such refined metalworking skills in the early medieval era. In the late 19th century, a sword made of Damascus steel was found in an ancient burial mound in Kiev, and for more than 100 years was presumed to have originated in Scandinavia. But after cleaning, the blacksmith’s mark on the blade finally revealed that it had been made in Kiev by the blacksmith Lyudota.
In time the Russian sword was transformed, becoming shorter and lighter and being increasingly used not only as a slashing but also a thrusting weapon. From the 15th century, the sword replaced the sabre before evolving into a heavier broadsword-type weapon for cavalry use.
The Russian masters produced Damascus steel until the 17th century. The technique was preserved in a workshop on the Volga River that made swords for the early Romanov tsars. Finally, though, the invention of cartridge ammunition in the 20th century brought an end to the sword’s evolution.
The secret of Damascus steel receded into the past, leaving behind only individual examples and the memory and legend of these unique blades. Some people even doubted that the technique had ever existed until it could be recreated in the late 20th century using computers and modern lathes.
The time of the exquisite Russian sword has long since passed. But today the successors of the ancient blacksmiths still create magnificent examples of edged weapons at the arms factories of St. Petersburg, Zlatoust and Tula.
WUGA-TV, the public television station owned and operated by the University of Georgia, will broadcast "Music for the Tsars," a 90-minute documentary about bringing historic band marches re-discovered in a Russian archive to the UGA campus. The documentary will air beginning June 27 at 8 p.m. An hour of Russian related music will precede the documentary and air at 7 p.m.
WUGA-TV's cameras follow George Foreman, director of UGA's Performing Arts Center; John Lynch, who at the time was UGA Director of Bands; and three UGA graduate students-Curran Prendergast, Rickey Badua and Blake Unger-on a trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia as they uncover a set of band marches, once performed for the Russian tsars. The group then brought the music, thought never to have been performed outside of Russia, to the UGA campus to be performed.
The UGA group traveled to St. Petersburg to study the manuscript scores of three marches written by the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. Rossini composed the marches in honor of Tsar Nicholas I in the early 1800s. UGA graduate students then edited and prepared the marches to be performed using modern instruments. The UGA Wind Ensemble performed the rediscovered music in a concert on campus in fall 2013. Portions of that performance are included in "Music for the Tsars."
The WUGA-TV broadcast of "Music for the Tsars" was videotaped against the backdrop of Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, the Hermitage and other historical sites.
More than a dozen WUGA-TV student interns assisted in the production—from initial travel planning, permissions, research, transcription, preliminary editing, translating and helping with interviews. Asen Kirin, an associate professor in art history in the Lamar Dodd School of Art, helped with Russian voice-overs and translations.
Additional broadcast dates and times are available at wugatv.org.
Melissa Jackson was the executive producer-writer for documentary. Underwriting support for "Music for the Tsars" was provided by the University of Georgia President's Venture Fund, the UGA Graduate School, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the Performing Arts Center at UGA. Additional production support was provided by LifeSprings Media.
WUGA-TV is operated by the University of Georgia through a partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Russians and their allies enter Paris in 1814. Artist: Alexei Danilovich Kivchenko (1851-1895)
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the April 3rd, 2014 edition of The Moscow Times. The author Konstantin Sonin, owns the copyright of the article presented below.
Sunday marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Paris, when Russian, Prussian and Austrian troops took control of the French capital and forced Napoleon to abdicate. I had honestly expected Russia to celebrate the day with fireworks, parades and church services — or at least with numerous newspaper articles, television programs, conferences and roundtable discussions. After all, that Russian victory put an end to years of conflict and gave Moscow its first opportunity to play an important role in European history. However, the Russian media was largely silent on the topic.
Every Soviet schoolchild learned of the Patriotic War of 1812, even though it only refers to the end of the French campaign on Russian soil. The war lasted for almost another 18 months, with the Russian Army taking active part. It is strange that we focus only on that earlier period of the war. After all, we do not say that World War II ended for Russia in the summer of 1944, when the frontline was pushed back to the Soviet Union's western border.
The end of the Napoleonic Wars was noteworthy not only for the victory of Russian Army — a number of such victories came both before and after that date as well — but also because it led to the greatest victory in the history of Russian diplomacy. The Congress of Vienna held in 1814 to 1815 restructured Europe in such a way that peace prevailed among the major powers for almost a full century. The Crimean War in 1853 to 1855 made that balance of powers even more enduring. And it happens that Russian diplomats, led by Tsar Alexander I, played a key role in that success.
Russia tends to forget this major victory in part because the Soviet leadership denigrated the importance of tsarist achievements. Despite Napoleon's worldwide fame as a formidable opponent, the Soviets considered Russia's victory over him as inappropriate material for propaganda. In fact, that view has held consistently from tsarist times, through the Soviet period and even right up until the present.
Several of the officers involved in the capture of Paris — General Eugen of Wurttemberg, Count Louis Alexandre Andrault de Langeron and Field Marshall Peter Wittgenstein — are remembered by history buffs more for the fact that they were foreign-born than for their critical role in that battle. In this sense, history has been kinder to Field Marshal Count Barclay de Tolly, but less so to Count von Bennigsen, the first of Russia's generals whose troops managed to hold ranks when battling soldiers under Napoleon's personal command.
There are also other reasons for this collective amnesia. For example, British historian Dominic Lieven refers to what he calls the "Tolstoy factor." His great novel "War and Peace" tells his readers that generals and emperors are nothing, and that the people are everything. Because of Tolstoy, we think of the War of 1812 as a battle between peoples and not between states. And more important, we imagine that the war ended where the book's description of it ends — as Russian troops reach the borders of the Russian empire.
And finally, our modern discourse is so fixated on the victory in World War II that it leaves almost no room to remember victories in other wars. But perhaps the current surge of patriotism will revive interest in them.