Peasant Icons: Representations of Rural People in Late Nineteenth Century Russia

Peasant Icons: Representations of Rural People in Late Nineteenth Century Russia

Peasant Icons: Representations of Rural People in Late Nineteenth Century Russia

Peasant Icons: Representations of Rural People in Late Nineteenth Century Russia

Synopsis

c Introduction c The 1860's: Setting the Stage c Narod: Passive, Benighted Simple c The Peasant as Judge c The Peasant as Rational Man of the Land c The Communal Peasant c The Gray Peasant: Unadorned and Beseiged c Kulak: The Village Strongman c Baba: The Peasant Woman -- Virago, Eve, or Victim? c Conclusion c Selected Bibliography

Excerpt

When I began this project, I was very much under the influence of the conceptualization of late Imperial Russia through modernization theory and of the approach to its study through the history of ideas. My initial question, typically broad for a student formulating a dissertation topic, was: What role were the peasants expected to play in Russia's industrial development in the late nineteenth century? As I began my research, I was struck by the fact that all of the figures whose discussions of the peasants' role I read seemed to be talking about a different "peasant." This led me to explore the various images, one may even say models, of the peasant that had entered public debate about Russia's course of development by the 1880s. Delving further into that more specific question, I realized that the first three decades of the post-Emancipation period were a crucible for the development of those images, and that, furthermore, the distinctive feature of that crucible was its admixture of moral and economic concerns in educated Russia's articulation of images of the newly freed peasantry. This led me to focus on the narrower subquestion within the larger peasant question of the search for the peasant soul.

Since I began this project, historians of Russia have turned increasingly to the study of the peasantry. Early on, such scholars as David Macey, Jeffrey Brooks, Thomas Pearson, Frank Wcislo, and Ben Eklof examined the peasantry from the vantage point of policy makers, educators, and publishers who acted in some way on peasant culture. More recently, such scholars as Barbara Engel, Stephen Frank, Steven Hoch, Carol Leonard, Timothy Mixter, and Christine Worobec have studied the peasantry from below. I have also taken this approach in my research on questions of rural concepts of justice, the break up of patriarchal households, and fire and arson in rural Russia.

As we have moved in the direction of social history to balance political and intellectual history, however, we continue to confront the legacy of that first post-Emancipation generation of observers of peasant culture who did so much to define the dominant images of the peasant for educated Rus-

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