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Browse Exhibits (18 total)

Moscow Itineraries

All three travelers visited Moscow, though they did different things with their time there. To see where they went in the city and what they wrote about each stop, view this interactive Neatline exhibit.


As was common during the period, all three travel writers included personal opinions about Russia and its people throughout their travel accounts.

Upon departing St. Petersburg at the end of his journey through Russia, Jesse had little doubt about whether Russia could be deemed "civilized."

"Russia can indeed lay but little claim to civilization thus defined, which must be evident to any foreigner after he has drawn aside the brilliant but flimsy veil in which, on his arrival at the capital, he found every thing connected with the subject enveloped," Jesse wrote. "He will look in vain for just grounds upon which he can award to Russia a place amonst the civilized nations of Europe." (page 306)

Jesse adds that "Their civilization is of the head, not the heart." He argues that Russians wish to be civilized and that they make a grand showing of these aspects, but a barbaric past remains in the large country, something he is comfortable saying after spending nearly a year going through it. He claims the poor do not have the self-esteem or free intercourse necessary for modernity. (page 303)

Oliphant was similarly frustrated by a percieved hiding of the truth by the Russian people.

"There is a singular difficulty in getting at the truth," Oliphant wrote. (page 51). He added that this led to a series of dissapoinments as landmarks and cities were hyped by natives and other travelers but continually dissapointed him upon arrival, starting with Kazan. (page 57)

The only thing that allowed Oliphant to move towards the truth was to move away from the country's loci of St. Petersburg and Moscow.

"As [a traveler] penetrates farther into the country, he will penetrate also, in some degree, farther into the true origin of those moral and physical evils which beset his path," Oliphant wrote. (page 256)

Stoddard, meanwhile, came away with a more optimistic viewpoint.

"This great Russian nation is awaking from its sleep," he wrote. "It is a giant ignorant of its enormous strength, like a blind Samson." (page 86)

Certainly the nearly 40 years between Oliphant's voyage and Stoddard's trip could account for the difference. Russia undoubtedly changed in innumerable ways over that period. Yet, Oliphant's assertion that he only came to see the true Russia after venturing away from Moscow indicates that the two travelers' different samples might also have contributed to their divergent views.



A differing opinion on the state of Russian civilization often seems to stem from contrasting views on the role Moscow should play in the country's image. While Jesse refers to the city's pomp as a "veil" over the real Russia, and Oliphant's assertions indicate he would agree with that claim, other travelers--particularly those who might not have traveled as extensively in the country--disagree.

Oliphant wrote, "However cursory the traveller’s survey of the more distant provinces of Russia may have been, he will not long have escaped the seductive influences of St. Petersburg and Moscow before he begins to make discoveries affecting the social polity of the Empire, which he never could have arrived at had he viewed it only through the distorted medium prepared for him at the chateau of the nobility, or at the Imperial Court." (page 260)

Yet, J.B. Bouton seemed to think that the nobility and the seat of power was the only important place when it came to determining the "social polity" as Oliphant refers to it.

"St. Petersburg and Moscow are Russia," Bouton wrote. "By sojourning a few days in each city one can gather sufficient, if superficial, knowledge of the Russian people." (Bouton 332)

Travelers with these divergent mindsets certainly come to different conclusions based on the scenes they deem important--those in the cities for Bouton and those elsewhere for Oliphant--but their opinions are likely also affected by the type of transportation taken between scenes.

Those travelers who visit only St. Petersburg, Moscow, and large cities of their ilk almost exclusively seemed to have traveled by train in the second half of the 19th century. This would limit them to interact only with a certain type of fellow traveler, to travel along routes that could be easily manipulated by authorities hoping to add a veneer of sophistication, and generally limit their experiences to those available in the cities they visit. Even though Jesse seems largely concerned with the goings on of the same cities, as indicated by the distributions of words per town in his account, it appears that his image of Russia was influenced by everything he experienced in between. By the end of the trip, he even seems to advocate that those experiences along the way are more vital in understanding Russia. Had he had the luxury of train travel, Jesse would never have had those experiences.

That said, even Jesse, Oliphant, and other non-rail travelers had their views of Russia affected by their means of travel. Oliphant noted that the post-road he traveled through the Don Cossacks seemed to avoid populated areas, though it is also possible that populations avoided post-roads. Either way, a post-road traveler is prevented from seeing some Russian people and experiencing certain events that would help them understand the nation's culture.

It seems that the only option to prevent the means of travel from coloring one's view of Russia arbitrarily would be to follow the example of Thomas Stevens, who set out on a mustang, steering clear of any well-travelled path in search of the real Russian experience. Travelling just a year before Stoddard would, Stevens set out to comment on positive aspects of Russia but, "before the ride was half finished, however, I found myself compelled to admit that matters were very bad, indeed." (Stevens viii)  I suspect most travelers with the money to come to Russia would either not be willing or able to take that route though.

The small sample size from which I worked prevents me from making any claims with great confidence. Still, an analysis of the routes taken by Jesse, Oliphant, and Stoddard, and each of those travelers' written accounts provide evidence of the assumed impact of a traveler's itinerary on his view of those places at which he stops, while also pointing towards the possibility that the means of travel between those stops could be just as influential if not moreso. 

Would you like to experience this journey again? Go back to the homepage.




Stops made by Oliphant, Stoddard, and Jesse:


Coded events experienced by Oliphant and Stoddard:


The Russian Shores of the Black Sea by Laurence Oliphant

Across Russia by Charles Stoddard

Notes of a Half-Pay in Search of Health by William Jesse

Roundabout to Moscow by J.B. Bouton

Through Russia by Thomas Stevens

Map of Moscow via David Rumsey collection

The Travelers

The three travelers studied, William Jesse, Laurence Oliphant, and Charles Stoddard, lived very different lives before venturing into Russia.

William Jesse

  • After serving in the British Military in India, Jesse came down with an illness, for which his doctor prescribed travel.
  • Went first to Rotterdam before making his way to Odessa for a trip through Russia.
  • Travelled with his wife, often using 'we' in his description of events.
  • Went from Odessa to St. Petersburgh in 1939-1940, publishing his account in 1941.
Laurence Oliphant
  • Well-educated British Author.
  • Traveled with friend Oswald Smith.
  • Went from St. Petersburgh to Odessa, through Crimea, via the Volga River.
  • Published in 1853, the account gained popularity during the Crimean War.
Charles Augustus Stoddard
  • A Presbyterian clergymen who often travelled.
  • Travelled throughout Europe, utilizing railroads to move from large city to large city.
  • Published in 1891.
  • Does not write much about himself or his traveling party, dividing the account by attraction.




Now, it is time to see these travelers' routes.

Harvard Reconstruction Unit

In marking the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of WWI, we are reminded of the devastating aftermath that followed this conflict. The countries involved suffered great losses of life, livelihood, urban fabric, and cultural property. The “Destruction and Recovery” project specifically focuses on the war’s impact on France and the United States’ response. In the wake of the war, Americans recognized the great need abroad and began to organize relief efforts. Among responses from organizations across the nation, student groups in particular showed admirable initiative. In 1920, a group of Harvard students expressed a desire to aid in the reconstruction of France. The team, known as the Harvard Reconstruction Unit, was composed of students and recent alumni of the College and the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture. Three locations in particular were the focus of the Harvard Reconstruction Unit: Rheims, Clermont-en-Argonne, and Somme-py. The extent of the reconstruction varied among these areas. For example, in Somme-py the team completely redesigned the water and sewage systems for the town. Meanwhile, in Rheims the main project of the team was to help develop plans to restore the damaged cathedral, which served as a symbol of strength to the French people. Rebuilding did much more than restore architecture; it was instrumental in reviving hope that had been lost in the war. The Harvard Reconstruction Unit travelled independently in the summer of 1920 but joined students from other universities during their second trip to France in 1921. Harvard’s primary source collections offer a wealth of information on the events following the war and Harvard’s role in the reconstruction. By consulting these materials, the following exhibit was compiled to tell the Harvard Reconstruction Unit's story. As we gain a better understanding of the significance of the actions of the  Unit, we might come to acknowledge the potential individuals have even during their status as students.

Workshop - Rachel's test exhibit

Workshop - Rachel's test exhibit

This is Rachel's text Omeka exhibit.