Modern censuses emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century as an attempt by the state to measure its populations but they were also part of the social construction of knowledge. Censuses not only stimulated individual identities but also contributed to the establishment of horizontal ties in society. Censuses became the subject of international organizations (the International Statistics Committee and later Institute), which served as scholarly forums to discuss the specific timing, organization, and categories of the census. This article by Andreas Kappeler explores the census of 1897 in the Russian Empire and compares it to the imperial censuses in the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1890 and 1900. The first Austrian census was undertaken in 1869, whereas in the Russian Empire, although preparations were being made since the 1870s, the first and only census was conducted in 1897. The scale of the census was greater in Russia, which had seventy times the territory and five times the population of Austria.
One of the central categories of the censuses was language. Whereas in the Habsburg Empire, with its politically important nationalities, only the languages of 9 recognized nationalities were counted, in the Russian Empire the list initially included 260 languages, later reduced to 130. Some languages in the Russian empire remained situation-dependent. People may have identified linguistically as "Turks" against the Russians, or as "Tatars" against other Turkic groups. In Central Asia, for instance, speakers of an entire language (Sart) were later reclassified as Uzbek. Overall, Kappeler argues, the use of language as a category of census did not have immediate political consequences in the Russian Empire, unlike in the Austrian Empire, which was a reflection of the greater weight of the national question in Austria. Confession, on the other hand, was a much more contentious category in the Russian Empire. Many Muslims in the Volga region or Old Believers mistrusted the census, while former Uniates requested to be counted as Roman Catholics. In Austria confession does not appear to have generated the same degree of contention. The category of literacy in the Russian census did not include the ability to write, likely to avoid the embarrassment of the high number of those who could read but not write. Census organizers in Russia did not count non-Christian educational institutions to measure the education of the population. Russia was the only European country to use the category of "estate," which reflected the imperial legal order. However, the category hardly reflected the social realities. The extremely high number of hereditary nobles counted among Georgians and Poles suggests that many of them were not legally recognized as such. Similarly, non-Christian clergy were not counted as members of the clerical estate, despite the fact that these were officially recognized confessions. Although Jews were officially included in the estate of inorodtsy (aliens), along with nomadic and seminomadic peoples of the Eurasian steppes and Siberia, they were counted as members of the urban estates. Based on the example of Central Asia, where the settled Muslim population, often referred to as "tuzemnoe" (native), was counted as part of the inorodtsy estate, Kappeler argues that the category of inorodtsy acquired a sense of designation for a colonial people, an object of the imperial "civilizing mission." Finally, unlike in Austria, where the census carefully recorded occupation, distinguishing between "self-employed," "in service," and "daily laborer," in Russia the published results of the census did not record the position of the respondent in his/ her occupation. Kappeler argues that Russian census organizers were less determined to acquire this information to use for the purposes of economic policy, even if that was their overall goal. Kappeler concludes with an overview of how the governments of Russia and Austria used the outcomes of the censuses in their policies. In Austria, data on language were used to solve territorial conflicts between nationalities or to support or deny claims to representation. However, the census tended to mobilize nationalities in their claims. Kappeler argues that the Russian census had less of an immediate political impact, which is illustrated by the relatively free recording of the "Little Russian" (Ukrainian) language speakers or the greater numbers of nobles among Poles and Georgians. Both cases were in direct contradiction to the government interests, insofar as the Ukrainian language and culture was discriminated and the authorities saw the Russian nobility as the pillar of the existing political order. Finally, the greater attention to the economic position of the respondents in Austria reflected a more "modern," capitalist order in Austria in comparison to Russia.