Reading Russian Sources : A Student's Guide to Text and Visual Sources from Russian History book cover
1st Edition

Reading Russian Sources
A Student's Guide to Text and Visual Sources from Russian History

Edited By

George Gilbert

ISBN 9780815394976
Published January 29, 2020 by Routledge
284 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Reading Russian Sources is an accessible and comprehensive guide that introduces students to the wide range of sources that can be used to engage with Russian history from the early medieval to the late Soviet periods.

Divided into two parts, the book begins by considering approaches that can be taken towards the study of Russian history using primary sources. It then moves on to assess both textual and visual sources, including memoirs, autobiographies, journals, newspapers, art, maps, film and TV, enabling the reader to engage with and make sense of the burgeoning number of different sources and the ways they are used. Contributors illuminate key issues in the study of different areas of Russia’s history through their analysis of source materials, exploring some of the major issues in using different source types and reflecting recent discoveries that are changing the field. In so doing, the book orientates students within the broader methodological and conceptual debates that are defining the field and shaping the way Russian history is studied.

Chronologically wide-ranging and supported by further reading, along with suggestions to help students guide their own enquiries, Reading Russian Sources is the ideal resource for any student undertaking research on Russian history.

Table of Contents

List of illustrations

List of contributors


List of abbreviations

A Note on Names, Translations and Dates

Introduction: Reading Russian Sources

George Gilbert

Part 1: Contexts and Approaches

1 Early Medieval Sources

Monica White

2 Primary Sources and the History of Modern Russia

Peter Waldron

3 The Power of Positionality? Researching Russian History from the Margins

Pavel Vasilyev

Part 2: Varieties of Sources and their Interpretation 

4 Imperial Maps

Jennifer Keating

5 "It’s Only a Story": What Value are Novels as a Historical Source?

Sarah Hudspith

6 The Late Imperial Press

George Gilbert

7 Surveillance Reports

Dakota Irvin

8 Soviet Autobiographies

Katy Turton

9 "Read All About It!": Soviet Press and Periodicals

Andy Willimott

10 Visual Culture as Evidence of the Soviet Past

Claire Le Foll

11 Film and TV as a Source in Soviet History: Challenges and Possibilities

Jeremy Hicks

12 The Diary as Source in Russian and Soviet History

Dan Healey

13 Soviet Memoir Literature: Personal Narratives of a Historical Epoch

Claire Shaw

14 Prisoner Memoirs as a Source in Russian and Soviet History

Mark Vincent

15 Soviet Letters

Courtney Doucette


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George Gilbert is lecturer in modern Russian history at the University of Southampton, UK. As well as editing the present volume, his publications include The Radical Right in late Imperial Russia (2016), and he has published in English and Russian on a variety of articles on different aspects of the social, cultural and political history of the late Imperial period.


'This collection helps to fill a huge gap in the literature. In the last 30 years, the sources available for the study of Russia and the Soviet Union have multiplied tremendously, and the opportunities and challenges of working with them have expanded alongside. No single volume could provide an exhaustive guide, but George Gilbert has brought together a superb collection of thought-provoking essays that will be indispensable to the teachers and students of the Russian and Soviet past who want a sense of the kinds of sources out there, and how to approach them in a sophisticated and nuanced way.'

Professor James Harris, University of Leeds, UK

'George Gilbert has assembled fifteen first-rate and thought-provoking essays about the challenges and rewards of using primary sources to interpret Russian history over the past millennium. The contributors analyze how a variety of sources, ranging from diaries, police reports, and personal correspondence to maps, cinema, and television, have been used by scholars to shed light on critical aspects of Russian history. The essays serve as an excellent introduction to historical research as a methodology, and both undergraduate and graduate students will benefit from reading them before embarking on their own research.'

Professor Bob Weinberg, Swarthmore College, USA