Vanguard Video! Peter’s Cultural Revolution (Week 9, Day 1)

Please note! In this video, I will refer to a slide show of Petrine architecture and visual art. You can find it under Reading & Viewing Week 9 and here.

Hello, Revolutionaries! Welcome to Week 9. Today our teaching assistant is Maggie. I have a few quick announcements for you.

Congratulations on your Midterm Media Projects! I’m recording this on Friday, March 27. As of today, four groups have posted their videos on the blog, and they have received some great comments. Different groups have chosen different methods for sharing their videos, all of which seem to be working. In order to watch Owen and Max’s video about Tolstoy, you just need to click through and ask permission. As for myself, I think your videos are fantastic! I will send each group comments soon. For the two groups who have not been able to post your videos yet: keep plugging away and get them up as soon as you can. As you know, you don’t have to worry about a late penalty, but it will be good to get this project off your plate.

Similarly, some of you have not yet written anything on the blog. That’s okay; whenever you get your comments posted, you will get full credit. But I recommend that you try to keep up with our regular schedule, so things don’t pile up on you. If you have a particular situation that is making it hard for you to post on the blog, please let me know by email. I also want to clarify that if you decide to respond to my questions, you do not need to answer all of them. You can just pick one question to focus on.

Speaking of projects, we are coming up on the final paper assignment. Keep an eye out for that. I will email it to you and post it on the blog this week. It’s a good idea to start thinking about what you might like to write about. Keep in mind that you will only be using sources on our syllabus. We are not doing a research paper anymore.

Last but not least, it is my pleasure to announce that we are now starting UNIT III: Cultural Revolution! We have already examined political revolution and social revolution, and now we are going to look at the revolutionary waves that swept through Imperial Russian culture and Soviet culture from Peter the Great’s time through the end of the Soviet era. I encourage you to take stock of what we learned in Unit II, just like we did together in class at the end of Unit I. How do you now understand the concept of “social revolution” in Russian and Soviet history? What similarities and differences do you find between political revolution and social revolution? What do you hypothesize that what our study of cultural revolution will bring to the table? I also encourage you to question the boundaries that I’ve set on this syllabus. How do political and social revolutions interact in the material that we’ve studied? How separate or intertwined are they? Do you agree with the way I have classified the events we have studied? If not, how would you do it differently? This is also a good time to get in touch with your Timeline Group and decide who is going to post what to the Revolutions Timeline.

Okay, let’s get started on thinking about Peter’s Cultural Revolution. Since we’ve talked about the Petrine Era before, there isn’t really any need for me to give you more historical context. You basically know the lay of the land. With that in mind, I’ll jump into my discussion questions. I also want to remind you that Erik and John will be posting discussion questions for this material, too. You are welcome to respond to their questions instead of (or in addition to) mine.

A quick note on my questions: Normally, in class, we would discuss these questions while looking at a slide show. We can’t exactly do that in this video. I’ve put the slide show online for you and included slides with some questions. Please spend some time with it on your own and share your thoughts on the blog!

Leah’s Discussion Questions
1. In chapter 4, Cracraft first discusses Peter’s architectural revolution. Peter decided to change the dominant architectural style in Russia to match what he saw during his Grand Embassy. Traditional Russian architecture was quite different, and European visitors reacted to it negatively. (See Slides 2-8.) On page 84, Cracraft quotes one European visitor sounding pretty disgusted by Moscow. But why does it matter what these visitors thought? Why did it matter to Peter? Why is it worth still studying their accounts today?

Relatedly, did the European visitors, and Peter himself, see Muscovite architecture as “backwards” and “primitive” because this was actually the case? Is it an inherently inferior, less sophisticated architectural style? How can we explain their view through historical context?

2. Compare John Perry’s description of Moscow on p.84 with the various description of St. Petersburg that Cracraft quotes on pages 147-154. In building St. Petersburg, did Peter succeed in revising how Western Europeans viewed Russia? What were the costs and benefits to Russia of making this drastic stylistic change?

3. In 1703, Peter founded St. Petersburg, a new capital city built on land newly conquered from the Swedish, while the Great Northern War was still going on. Look at Slides 9-11. This is a terrible place to build a major city. It’s cold and dark and marshy, and it floods a lot. What are the pros and cons of building a city in this spot? Why was it worth it to Peter to build a whole new capital city instead of reconstructing Moscow? How does the project of creating St. Petersburg fit into what we know about Peter as a ruler?

4. Now look through Slides 12-21, which show images of St. Petersburg’s layout and most famous buildings from Peter’s time. Consider the questions posed in the slide show.

5. Look at Slides 22-25. Consider these domestic spaces and the questions on Slide 22. Compare Peter’s two houses (the Domik and the first Winter Palace with the vides of the Grand Palace at Peterhof. Analyze Peter’s trajectory as a ruler, as expressed through his housing?

6. Cracraft tells us that Peter also created a revolution in artistic style. Look at Slides 28-37 and consider the questions posed in the slide show. Use Hughes’ essay “From Tsar to Emperor: Portraits of Aleksei and Peter I” to help you think through these issues.

7. The third strand of Peter’s cultural revolution, as identified by Cracraft, was his revolution in language. For each of his endeavors—bureaucratic restructuring, new scientific and technical knowledge, new artistic knowledge, new social practices—Peter sponsored the publication of a huge number of translated textbooks and guides. This introducing a huge number of loan words into Russian. Let’s consider this carefully, because it would have been possible to use Russian roots to construct new words to fit the new concepts Peter was introducing. In your analysis, why did he choose to go with loan words? What does this choice signal about Peter’s priorities?

8. In order to make this huge increase in printing possible, Peter reformed and simplified the Russian alphabet, establishing a new civil alphabet for secular publications while allowing the Church to continue to use the old alphabet for religious publications. Compare the two alphabets, which are images 27 and 28 in Cracraft’s book. What similarities and differences do you notice? What are the implications of having two different alphabets in use for these two types of texts? Why did he make this choice? What are the long term effects?

7 Replies to “Vanguard Video! Peter’s Cultural Revolution (Week 9, Day 1)”

  1. To answer question three, construction of St. Petersburg fulfills three main categories for Peter The Great.

    First, its geographical location, despite being in a cold and damp climate, has several benefits to it. Its coastal location was something that Peter could really appreciate because he wanted to construct a powerful navy, and even though the Baltic Sea could be treacherous in the winter time, it was better than having no sea access, and therefore no navy.

    Secondly, St. Petersburg, under his supervision, could represent the new westernized and modernized ideals that he strived for in his government and military. Looking at the architecture of the Twelve Colleges building as well as Academy of Sciences, they reflect a more Western approach instead of something like the Moscow Kremlin or the wooden peasant architectural designs.

    Thirdly, positioning St. Petersburg in territory he conquered from his foes is an obvious display of power. Using this new territory to construct a westernized capital for the Russian Empire is a significant show of strength, and it also solidified Peter’s intentions of holding this territory for the foreseeable future and incorporating it into his empire.

  2. To answer the questions in slides 28- 37, I think it is important to identify the theme of Westernization. Throughout Peter’s rule he was constantly taking ideas from the West to “better” Russia. As an absolutist monarchy it seemed to be the trend that rulers would show their opulence and power through art, because it is a visual and obvious way to do so. No one did this better than Louis XIV, especially with the Palace du Versailles. In slide 37, Peter I seems to have taken much of his inspiration from the French garden style, which is characterized by nature in a “perfect” form- as seen by the squared off hedges. Moreover, the Classical style statues would only elevate someones opinions of the experience, due to the high respect people had for the Classics. Similarly, taking a stroll in a garden like this would tell you that art is connected with nature, and it is in its most perfect form when not complicated with overuse of line. Moreover, to discuss the portrait of Peter I and Alexei, they both have a similar drapery affect which is popular in many royal portraits up into the 19th century. Furthermore, they both show power through stance. However, the portrait of Alexei shows much more opulence, he is completely surrounded by gold. Furthermore, his portrait connects to religion, through symbols of the cross placed in serval areas, and he is wearing a more traditional Muscovite garb. Peter I’s portrait is thus more so modern and secular. He looks as if he is about to go lead an army. His power comes from facial expression and his armor. There is little show of wealth and no religious imagery. His portrait shows that his power is connected to Russia’s military prowess. To answer the questions about the portrait of Peter I and the miniatures, it seems that with everything Peter I puts into place there is a learning curve, and that is the same case in art. The miniature is in a much more Medieval style, the dimensions are flatter and the proportions of the head and face are slightly askew. Especially compared to the portrait done by an Englishman, who comes from a country where old masters are their “bread and butter”. Even though there is a clear difference in the art, it makes sense that Peter I would still give these miniatures out to remind the court that he is Russia. He often had problems with the court and seeked many ways to take power away from them, so it makes sense that he would give them a portrait of him to remind them that he is always there and he has the power.

  3. To answer question one, I do think that it mattered to Peter what the European visitors thought of his country. If we think about the social changes Peter made during his reign, he copied much of the westernized styles. He changed the traditional Russian clothing to a more westernized look. He decreed that everyone had to shave their beards because he wanted the men to look more European. He changed a lot of Russia’s social aspects because he saw how different western Europe was. He knew that people commented negatively on Russian social life, so he changed it. The architecture was no different. He wanted to gain the respect of the western Europeans, and he wanted to show the westernized world that Russia can be a part of that and compete with them on the same level. Peter wanted to let the rest of the world know that Russia was a powerful nation, and he wanted to bring Russia into the modernized world. He wanted to advance Russia. I do believe that the negative comments about traditional Russian architecture mattered to Peter because he wanted visitors to see Russia in a new light. He wanted the visitors to be able to compare it to their homes. He wanted to prove to the rest of the Westernized World that Russia was a part of that world. I think it matters in the context of studying this because we can see that Peter was really concerned about how others viewed Russia. We can also see that Peter was swayed by foreigners’ points of view. While studying this, we can see how and why Russia went through this transformation. I think it is important to acknowledge these comments. On page 85, Cracraft writes, “We do [care] because an influential core fo the Russian ruling elite, including the young Tsar Peter himself, came to share their largely negative views. . .” With Peter and many of the ruling elite believing that the architecture was bad because of what the other European travellers said, came a transformation in architecture. Those who had the most power believed the negative comments; they had the power to change it. I believe that peter viewed traditional Russian architecture as primitive and backwards because he saw all of the western European countries and their styles. He saw that they were advanced not only socially but economically as well. He wanted to be compared to the greatest countries in the world, and he wanted to eventually be referred to as one. He wanted to change everything about Russia so that he could be compared to these great nations. It is not an inherently inferior architecture style, it is just vastly different from what the rest of Europe was doing at the time. So, if we think about this in a historical context, peter probably saw what everyone was doing compared to him and found vast differences.

  4. In response to question 4, I believe that Peter very strategically chose this spot for his new capital. Russia is a rather landlocked country and at a time that the only trade was conducted at ports, this made controlling or having access to waterways essential. This is something that Russia did not possess. Numerous wars were fought by Russia for control of the Black Sea. By moving the capital of Russia to a port city on the Baltic Sea this facilitates an increase in trade. This also accomplishes two goals by Peter. One, it allows access to Europe and as Peter was trying to Westernize as much as possible this made it substantially easier while also showing the western powers that Russia was a European state and not an Asian state. Peter also had a fondness for boats and sought to create a substantial and powerful navy. Peter through his travels learned much about shipbuilding and other navy’s. He had a personal hand in the building of Russia’s navy and this is not something that could have been accomplished with the capital remaining in Moscow.

  5. In Cracraft’s book, image 27 is old alphabet used for religious publications and image 28 is the new civil alphabet. The Cyrillic alphabet was based off the Greek alphabet and other letters were created to go with the verbal Slavonic language. (Cracraft, 99)
    The old Cyrillic alphabet used ~40 letters. The first letter in the alphabet “A” is fancy and in a detailed box. All the letters look completely hand-written and are quite complex. As for the civil alphabet, it consists of 28 letters which are much clearer to understand. The first letter “A” in the civil alphabet, is not in a fancy box or detailed, it is just like the other letters. However, there is what appears to be an olive branch where the fancy “A” would belong. Comparing the two, the alphabets are set up fairly similar. Naturally, some letters where switched around to most likely accommodate for the the sounds or shape of the letters to fit more closely to the Roman alphabet possibly. Along with this, the civil alphabet has the special characters such as “Э, Ь, Ю” are at the end of the alphabet. Where as, the previous three letters are not at the end. As seen on the old Cyrillic, the “Ы” is used, however, on the civil alphabet it is not. Today “Ы” a letter that is used frequently. Opposite of this is “Я” not used in the old Cyrillic alphabet but is used in the civil alphabet.
    The implications of having two alphabets would have been confusing for the Russian people to have learned. While the old alphabet was used in religious texts, people would have been most familiar with it. However, there were many letters used in this and would have been difficult to possibly master writing it. With the civil alphabet, it would have been easier to use with less letters to memorize. Also the letters, in my opinion, are easier to read from the civil alphabet because they are more romanized. This leads to the Westernization of Russia as well because that was Peter I’s goal of this cultural revolution. I believe he kept the old Cyrillic due to trying to fade it out with it only being used for religious texts. Thus it was also possible that the new generations would not know the old Cyrillic alphabet and would only know the new civil Cyrillic alphabet. Again, then the old alphabet would be eventually forgotten, and to move away from the Greek influence.

  6. In regards to question 3.

    First looking at the city, I agree it is very dark and looks like a place to flood lot. then I also started to think that it was not a good place to hold a capital because of another problem that lies. The problem is that St. Petersburg is surrounded by rivers and right in front is the Baltic Sea. So if it were come time to battle, the only way to retreat would be back into land if the Baltic Sea would not the way to escape. Also with the flooding, there would constantly be damage and rebuilding which would use sources and finances that might not be available. But one major pro is the fact the Baltic Sea is right there because any imports that would come in right at the opening St Petersburg would be the first to receive being it is the new capital. With Peter constructing a new capital, it shows that he has the power to do so and that he knows what he is doing as ruler not only for himself, but for the people as well.

  7. In response to question 3
    Despite being in a terrible location, there is some pros for the location. Firstly, this meant that Peter would be closer to the front lines of war. Since the Russians were moving deeper into Swedish front lines, communication could be more direct between Peter and the troops. Also, the location allowed Russia to develop sea ports, more particular the Baltic sea, which Peter was one of Peters big goal in his military campaigns. Gaining access to the Baltic sea can help increase in trade with neighboring empires which can potentially increase revenue for the Russian empire. A potential reason why Peter the Great decided to make a new capital city instead of rebuilding Moscow could be his goal of modernizing Russia, and showcasing a new capital city with different style of architecture among the border line with Europe was one way to showcase that Russia is now a big emerging power within Europe and it is catching up to the modernization of Europe at the time. The creation of St. Petersburg was part of Peters Cultural Revolution, in which a new style of architecture, design of the city, and several advantages of the location for military and economic purposes.

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