The motivation for this project started with the primary assignment for the History 92r Research Lab class at Harvard University, led by Kelly O’Neill.
The goal of this project is to design and build a database of the itineraries followed by foreigners traveling in the Russian Empire from the reign of Ivan IV (Ivan “the Terrible”) to the collapse of the dynasty in 1917. Published travel accounts played a key role both in generating knowledge and shaping opinions – European opinions in particular – about Russians and the empire they inhabited. But how well did these travelers know Russia? Where did they go? How long did they stay? What did they see, and what did they choose to describe?
To begin answering those questions, I first needed to improve my background knowledge on travel writing and travel writing from Russia in particular. I found that travel writing is nearly as old as writing itself, dating back thousands of years to Herodotus in 440 B.C.E. Russian travel history did not share that lengthiness, but it still included a wide range of travelers and types of accounts.
One of the biggest changes in Russian travel writing over the period I was tasked with studying was a shift in the way travelers went through Russian space. At the beginning of the 19th century, horses were the primary source of transportation. Visitors could access them through a system of posthouses along major post-roads for a cost of five to ten copecks per verst, though two more copecks per verst were required for a padaroshna that was needed for travel (Jesse 9). William Jesse used this system to travel from Odessa to St. Petersburgh in 1839.
With the proliferation of steamboats in the middle of the century, travel by water became more popular. Laurence Oliphant might be the most famous travel writer to use the new steam power in 19th-century Russia, writing about his travels down the Volga in 1853.
Both of these methods quickly fell out of favor for wealthy travelers by the end of the century though, as an extensive rail system made travel much more convenient. Travelers got to see less of Russia, but could more quickly move from major tourist destination to major tourist destination. Charles Stoddard’s trip to St. Petersburgh, Moscow, and Nijni Novgorod in 1891 via rail was far from exceptional. In fact, its routineness was what made it attractive to me.
Attempting to find an angle at which to attack the broad topic of Russian travel writing, I decided to compare these three accounts by three travelers using three methods of transportation. Ultimately, I found that the type of travel influenced the way these men viewed Russia and impacted their opinions on the place and its people.
Over the course of this exhibit, I hope you will come to feel like you know these travelers and their trips as well as I have come to know them over the course of this semester. First, you will learn their backgrounds in a short biographical section. Then, you will have the ability to follow each of their unique paths through Russia via Google Earth embeds. A further analysis of these routes will follow on the next page. Then, a spotlight is cast on Moscow in an attempt to further familiarize the reader with what types of things these travelers saw, and what they wrote about those various scenes.
After gaining an understanding of the travelers’ routes and experiences, you will learn about their takeaways from their trips and their opinions about the mysterious land. Lastly, I will conclude by outlining how I think my findings inform the study of Russian travel writing and travel writing generally. Data used for this project can be viewed on the final tab.