English-language Historical Online Exhibits

Ben’s Index has a list of links to exhibits on Russian and Soviet history.  Here is a selection of those that seemed up to date:


April 27, 2009. Exhibits, Interest & Entertain, Students, Teaching. Leave a comment.

Harvard University Refugee Interview Project

I learned today that this famous project has been fully digitized and most of the interviews as well as reference guides to the collection are available online.   Carried out from 1950-1951, it consists of “329 general ‘sociological’ interviews on the subjects’ life histories, which were known as Schedule A, and 435 topical ‘anthropological’ interviews with more focused lines of questioning, known as Schedule B,” as well as thousands of written questionnaires.   Although I could not find precise information, it seems as if most of the interview materials were included in the project.  More about the project can be found in the Summer 2008 issue of the Davis Center newsletter.

April 13, 2009. Archives, Primary Sources, Research, Stalin Era, Students, Teaching. 2 comments.

Russian language dissertations

While in Russia, I worked in the dissertation department of the Russian National Library (at Khimki) – and I learned that they have developed a program to provide digital versions of most new Russian dissertations in so-called “virtual libraries.”   Khimki has one such “virtual reading room,” which is made up of computers that have access to their database of dissertations with links to full-text versions (They also have hard copies available there).

Is it possible to access the dissertation database from other sites or via the web?  According to their website, called the Electronnaia Biblioteka Dissertatsii, there are designated libraries throughout Russia and in a number of former Soviet republics region that also have similar virtual libraries.   I’m hoping to find out whether any large western institutions have sought access.   Their website does provide a search option for dissertations submitted since 2004.  I experimented with it a little and did not come up with as many dissertations as I found using the electronic system at Khimki in Moscow, which included dissertations since 2000, I think.  There was only one hit for Архангельск, for instance, while in Moscow I found many more.  According to the dissertation resources page on the Robarts Library website, the full text of these dissertations used to be available.

The Robarts page also suggests a second site, the electronic catalogue of dissertations.  It has a very basic search function, but comes up with far more hits.  I searched for архангельск and came up with 90 hits, and added the word России just as a test and came up with 6.  Very little information is provided though up front about the hits.  In order to get the complete results, the website requires you to submit an online request.  The results though seem to come  immediately, by email.

April 13, 2009. Dissertations, Research. 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.

Finding Tables of Contents for Russian Journals

While reviewing Russian historical journals, I came across a website that provides the table of contents for quite a few of them in text format.

It’s http://www.infomag.ru/journals/

It has Voprosy Istorii, Izvestiia RAN, Istoricheskii Arkhiv, Отечественная История and others.  It covers the journals from about 1998 to at least 2008.  I don’t recall finding online table of contents for Istochnik.

Some western journals have tables of contents on their own websites, including Cahiers du monde Russe, Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, etc.

April 11, 2009. Journals, Research. Leave a comment.


Summer 2007, traveling with fellow enthusiasts led by our friends at the Centre for Independent Social Research in St. Petersburg.  From St. Petersburg we went north through Karelia to the Kola Peninsula, including stops at Petrozavodsk, Kondapoga, Medvezhegorsk, Belomorsk, the Solovetskii Archipelago, Lovozero and the Apatity-Kirovsk region.
We came across many examples of how history and memory remain a complex problem in post-soviet Russia. The caption on this tombstone


reads: “Fighters from special detachments who died during fights with Interventionists and the White Army in 1919.” But according to our guide, the people buried here were commandos who died putting down a peasant revolt following government efforts to forcibly enlist them in the Red Army.

We also came across a monument to Andropov, one of the USSR’s last rulers before M. Gorbachev came to power.  He became head of the Petrazavodsk communist party after the war. He acted as a beneficiary for Karelia, visiting in the 1970s and later provided housing for about 30,000 people when he came to power.  The monument, which is jokingly referred to as “Andropov in the image of Alexander Blok,” was dedicated in 2003.


It was put up at about the same time that a monument to Brezhnev appeared in Novorosiisk, as part of an effort to “make peace with the past.”

We visited the timber town of Kondopoga, arguably the second most important city in Karelia, which is run by the owners of the local pulp and paper factory.


According to our guide, the patriotic local owner recently invested millions (2000) to restore the 1950 “palace of culture” (community center).  It’s a very extravagant building.


Those people who work for the company live well.

The city is more famous for the riots that erupted on August 31st, 2006 between ethnic Russians and Caucasus immigrants.  When we passed through, the restaurant where the fighting was in the process of being replaced by a sports center.


We were fortunate to see a rare example of an orthodox church (~1774) with a bell tower roof from the pre-Nikon reform era.  After Nikon’s reforms, all churches would be in the form of the famous “onion dome”.


The church was used for drying grain during the Soviet period.

We also visited the fabulous Kizhi monastery as well, one of the most stunning examples of Russian wooden church architecture.  I love the grassy fields of the north in the summertime.


We passed through Medvezhegorsk and visited the local history museum where there is an exhibit on the building of the White Sea Canal.  It is located in this building, meant to look like a ship, which was the hotel where Maxim Gorky stayed when he came to “report on” the building of the canal.  It’s no longer safe enough to go up the top, which, if I remember correctly, was a restaurant?picture3

We also attended a memorial held by Memorial at the Gulag execution site of Sandormakh.


Seven thousand innocent people were executed on the site between from 1937 to 1941.

Speaking of monuments to repression, on our tour of the White-Sea Canal near Belomorsk, we learned that the recent renewal of Soviet-era security measures around strategic “objects” such as the canal’s (historic) locks have made it impossible to take visitors to the only monument dedicated to the thousands who died during construction.

(not my photograph)

At the same time, according to our guide, a local Orthodox priest from Belomorsk encourages churchgoers to remember those who died, and is part of an ongoing project to install visible crosses along the route of the canal.

History in Russia remains subject to deep controversy.

April 11, 2009. Interest & Entertain, Travels. Leave a comment.

Marina Sorokina’s talk on Russian Archives

Today Dr. Marina Sorokina,  an historian and specialist on the Russian archives, gave a presentation to U of T graduate students.  She argues that Russia has made huge strides in the last five years towards making archival resources accessible online. This work is supported especially by the Russian Foundation for the Humanities.

She discussed the official portal of the Russian archives and websites for the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Democracy, Sakharov and Solzhenytsin Foundations, the new online portals of RGASPI’s comintern archive and RGALI, as well as a site called Hronos.


The Hronos site has an excellent biograficheskii ukazatel’, the best I’ve seen.  I only looked the Soviet period.    It also seems that they take suggestions.


Guides to the Russian Academy of Science’s archives are available here.  I asked Dr. Sorokina about finding sources from the Institute of the History of Art, and she also pointed me towards its current manifestation, the Institute Iskusstvoznanie.  They have an division of visual art and architecture.


The Alexander Yakovlev archive has a database of published archival documents that came to light during the failed attempt to try the Communist Party in the late 1990s.  The materials are divided into thematic categories, and there is a search function.  I searched for укрупнение and агрогород without any hits.  I searched for Хрущев between 1950 and 1953 and came up with a few documents:

Докладная записка агитпропа ЦК Г.М. Маленкову о роли сектора художественной литературы агитпропа ЦК в кампании против космополитизма

Информация В.С. Абакумова1 о «засоренности» кадров в клинике лечебного питания Института питания АМН СССР 04.07.1950

Докладная записка агитпропа ЦК Г.М. Маленкову о предложении М.С. Гуса написать книгу об американской разведке 25.03.1952

Докладная записка агитпропа ЦК Г.М. Маленкову по вопросам юридической науки 12.05.1952

These are all reports to First Secretary Malenkov; he had them forwarded “v круглую” to other secretaries, including Ponomarenko and Khrushchev.  I’ve noted that a search for “хрущев” will not catch “хрущеву,” worth being aware of.

Searching for хрущеву brought up many more files, mostly dokladnye zapiski to Stalin.  The majority of them relate to Foreign Affairs.   I searched for колхоз 1949-1953 and all the materials related to either literature or to Jewish Autonomous Republic.  Also interesting that in this case the search terms колхоз, колхоза, и колхозов all give the same results.


The Sakharov Center has a database of Gulag Memoirs.  I searched their memoirs for the term “Arkhangel’sk” and came up with 133 memoirs.  Архангельск and Крестьян came up with only 1.


RGALI‘s search function works well, and draws on their apparently very extensive catalogs.  Only one item came up for Arkhangel’sk oblast’, however:

Шифр: ф. 3102 оп. 1 ед. хр. 1287
Раздел систематизации: 1. Рукописи.
К.И.Коничев. “Документы рассказывают. Александр Грин в Пинеге и Кегострове”. Статья. С дарственной надписью В.Г.Лидину.
Крайние даты: 1964
Количество листов: 1
Коничев Константин Иванович
Лидин Владимир Германович, адресат
Грин (Гриневский) Александр Степанович, упоминаемое лицо
Способ воспроизведения
Вырезка из газеты
Литература/Публицистика/Публицистика в России и СССР/Статьи
Литература/Публицистика/Публицистика в России и СССР/Переписка личная

Архангельская обл./Кегостров о., упоминаемое место
Архангельская обл./Пинега пос., упоминаемое место


Thanks Marina!

October 22, 2008. Archives, Primary Sources, Research. Leave a comment.

language online – Ukrainian

In spring 08  I spent two weeks carrying out research in Kiev.  Fortunately, most of the documents I needed were in Russian.  But not all of them.  Moreover, the chief of the reading room at the central Party archive of Ukraine only spoke to me in Ukrainian.  Each time I would answer haltingly in Russian – and without batting an eye she would continue on in Ukrainian, despite knowing Russian. Charming?

As a way to get started learning Ukrainian, I found an online course hosted at UCL in England called Read Ukrainian.

October 16, 2008. Language, Research, Students, Teaching, Ukraine. Leave a comment.

Need a Russian phone number?

A couple years ago I signed up with a local company here in Toronto, vbuzzer, to get myself a virtual local phone number.  It’s a local 416 number which rings on my computer, and if I’m not available goes to an online voice mail service.  The message is sent to my regular email account, attached as a simple sound file.  I found this especially useful when I was abroad in Russia, as I was able to keep my local Toronto phone number for the small fee of $2.50/month.

Now that I’m back in Toronto, I began to wonder: would it be possible to get a local phone number in Russia, with the same sort of voice mail service, or with over-the-internet call forwarding.  Lo and behold, such services exist.  The most affordable service that I came across is TelphinUSA.  For a small fee they will give you a number in the city of your choice (I chose St. Petersburg) and allow you to automatically forward the call to any number in North America.  The service worked.  The only problem I had was that every once in a while I would recieve calls by mistake.  Because of the time difference, these often came in the middle of the night.  Therefore I would recommend using a local number that can go directly to voicemail, such as a vbuzzer number.

September 29, 2008. Web tools. Leave a comment.

Train tickets online (almost) and a Moscow Mapping tool

There are a few very useful tools now available on the internet to make life easier in Russia.

The most exciting resource is that you can now order Russian train tickets on-line at RZD.RU and pay by credit card.  This is very reliable way to beat the lines at the stations.  All you need to do is set up an account on their website and have the resources to type in cyrillic in order to enter your departure and destination.  The website allows you to check availability for various trains as well as classes of travel, and to compare cost.  After you have selected your train you can also make seating requests (For platzkart, it helps to know that seat #1 is closest to the conductor, while the highest numbered seats will put you either near the bathroom or along the aisle seats – 5-30 is usually safe.)  After purchasing the ticket you can print our your “e-ticket” that includes a barcode or just write out the confirmation code of your ticket.  There’s one trick: you must pick up the ticket at a station, any station.  I have also picked up tickets for someone else and I have also picked up my own ticket without my passport, but I don’t think this is possible as a rule.  The larger stations have special booths where this can be done, where I have never seen a line.  If there is no booth, you apparently have the right to cut in the regular lines, but you must do this at your own peril.  I’ve done it, but wouldn’t think twice about trying again.  People who’ve been waiting in line for 30 minutes to an hour have little sympathy for your excuse that “the instructions say that people with “e-tickets” can cut.”  One man threatened to clobber me if I went ahead of him, in the next line a mother with a baby pleaded with me not to go ahead, at the third they cried out: the window is about to close, go to another line! and so on… Apparently there are two websites that offer this service, but I’ve only ever used this one.

There is also an excellent mapping/directions called Marshruty Moskvy website for looking up addresses as well as transportation schedules for Moscow for looking up bus schedules in Moscow.

September 17, 2008. Living in Russia, Web tools. Leave a comment.

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