Polnoe sobranie zakonov

In her inaugural post on the Russian History Blog, historian Alison Smith discusses her recent work with the Polnoe sobranie zakonov (Complete collection of the laws), “a process made much more pleasant because of the utterly fantastic fact that the Russian National Library has scanned the whole thing and put it up online.”  The site quite easy to navigate, the indexes are available, but there is no search function as far as I could tell.  But as the rest of Dr. Smith’s post reveals, there is some beauty in not skipping straight to what you’re looking for.  (This reminds me of the time my first meaningful history teacher, Lee Nichol, introduced his class to the word ‘ruminate’ by describing the process of finding books in a library before the card catalogue was computerized.)  Smith writes,

Even when I’m looking for something specific, though, I find myself randomly reading other laws in large part because they tell me things I didn’t know.  I learn that Peter the Great made a law to restrict the sale of wax candles for use in churches to the churches themselves, and forbade the practice of random other people selling such candles on the street outside churches. Or I learn that Anna was so upset to hear that people were being trampled by people galloping through the streets of St. Petersburg (on horses, of course) that she banned galloping in the city–and furthermore announced that anyone caught galloping would be punished by being beaten with the cat-o-nine-tails “mercilessly.”

And then there’s Catherine the Great. Now, obviously, she was a woman who liked laws, what with her famous “legislomania” and all that. But she also had a thing for commemorating major events (military victories, putting up the Bronze Horseman [yes, really]) by releasing Manifestos to All Her People, granting them all sorts of things.  One in particular shows up in a number of discussions of her reign.  On March 17, 1775, in honor of making peace with the Ottoman Empire, she released a Manifesto giving “mercies to various sosloviia” in recognition of God’s mercy in granting her and her state victory, peace, and the respect of other nations. She wondered (she wrote) how best to honor that divine intervention, and decided that according to the Lord’s words, He preferred mercy to sacrifice, and so mercy she would give.  Forty seven “mercies” then follow…  (see the original post for citations).


May 19, 2011. 18th Century, Full-text, Late Imperial, Primary Sources. Leave a comment.

Reading Stalin

If you’re thinking of spending an afternoon reading (or skimming through) the works of Stalin in Russian, I would recommend taking a look at Библиотека Михаила Грачева, an on-line library since 2001.  Although I cannot guarantee that his collectionof Stalin’s published works is comprehensive, it is very impressive.  My specific search led me to three separate editions of his collected works: one from 1951, the second from 1997 and the third from 2006.  Professor Grachev’s library also includes related books like Сто сорок бесед с Молотовым.  As far as I can tell, there is no built in search engine.  But with Google’s advanced search function you can limit your searches to his site.  Or just add “site:http://grachev62.narod.ru/” to your search.

October 24, 2010. Biography, Full-text, Primary Sources, Research, Stalin Era, Web tools. Leave a comment.

Seth Bernstein on the Sakharov Memoir Database

The Sakharov Memoir Database  was created by the Muzei i Obshchestvennyi Tsentr “Mir, Progress, Prava Cheloveka” imeni Andreia Sakharova.

Seth Bernstein, a doctoral student in history at the University of Toronto, interned with the Sakharov Center in 2004 as a transcriber, and then used their database for his senior thesis.  I interviewed him about his experience using it.


Seth: alright, what would you like to know?

me: What is the center’s web address?

Seth: http://www.sakharov-center.ru/asfcd/auth/.  For some reason it’s been having problems and trying to go to the search engine doesn’t get you anywhere. [March 2010 – Now it seems that the search function has been removed-AB].

me: It’s a shame that the site isn’t working!  … I’m curious, how representative is the online part of their overall holdings? Do you know if there were many memoirs still unprocessed in their archives? (I see from their site that they now have 827 memoirs).  Do they have a mission to provide 100% of their memoirs online?

Seth: Of course they would like to provide access to 100% of the memoirs but my guess from their selection and my experience with them, is that they take memoirs that were easy to digitize, very famous or unique.  So they have, for example, Anna Larina’s memoir as well as unpublished materials… just based on my searches I found that they have some pretty obscure memoirs. (more…)

June 8, 2009. Archives, Full-text, Interviews, Primary Sources, Stalin Era, Students. 2 comments.

Google Books

I was pleased to discover today that Google Books can be searched in Cyrillic.   In other words, the service enables researchers to do keyword searches of their massive and expanding database, including tens of thousands published in the Soviet Union collected over the decades by North American research libraries and recently scanned.  Although the complete text is usually not available for viewing because of copyright restrictions,  each reference provides some useful information, including the number of times these terms appear in the book (up to thirty, it seems) and up to three page numbers where the term is mentioned.

My initial attempts to use this function to perform a keyword search of a Russian-language text were a little frustrating.  I decided to test the keyword search using the multi-volume collection Tragediia Sovetskoi Derevni. An advanced search for a keyword along with a word from the title: трагедия, and author:  Данилов came up with a couple hits in volume II of the series.  But at first I was unable to find my term on the pages where Goggle said it should be.  To double check, I searched the online text for a word that I found on p. 339 in the hard copy.  Google Books did find that word, but only one time, and only on p. 905.   In the end–after some persistence–I determined that Google’s entry for volume II is incorrect: the online text that was actually searching was volume III.  Once I had correctly matched the mislabeled Google text with the correct volume, I was able to make successful keyword searches.

Moreover, by searching the various volumes directly rather than returning to the general advanced search I was able to get hits for my keyword in the other volumes.  Once I matched the mislabeled online texts with its respective hard copy, I was then able to carry out pretty effective searches.  It’s important to note, however, that the keyword searches are limited in significant ways.  First, the search did not catch my keyword in all instances.  This is not surprising, I guess, given the problems inherent in converting digital images into text (OCR).  Also, what is most frustrating is that the keyword search only provides the page number for the first three hits.  It is thus useful for terms that show up very infrequently, but frustrating to use effectively when the keyword shows up more often.

There is a helpful discussion of some of the quality control issues in 2007 article by Robert Townsend, “Google Books: What’s Not to Like” on the AHA Today blog.  Overall, despite it’s problems, Google Books is still a powerful tool given its scope.

Ben Zajicek Says:
April 27, 2009 at 12:15 pm edit

I’ve found some fabulous stuff on google print. Anything written before 1923 is available in Google books as a full-text downloadable pdf file. Suggestion: perhaps we could create a site with links to the permanent URLs for public domain books in Russian/related to Russia, find a way to post them as we discover them.

On the downside, I’ve tried to use this in my dissertation research and run into a lot of disappointment. The entire run of the Soviet psychiatry journal “nevropatologiia i psikhiatriia” is available on google print. The problem is that they are all post 1923, and thus deemed to be in copyright. I could still search them for key words and then go look them up in the print version, but the identifying information (year, volume, number) is almost all wrong… Sigh.

A useful resource that I’ve found for public domain sources to use in Western Civ courses:

James Harvey Robinson, Readings in European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen with the Purpose of Illustrating the Progress of Culture in Western Europe Since the German Invasions, v. 1 (1904) : books.google.com/books?id=4Z1FAAAAIAAJ

and v. 2 (1906): http://books.google.com/books?id=EDoNAAAAYAAJ>

April 12, 2009. Full-text, Research. 3 comments.