All Russia is Burning!
A Cultural History of Fire and Arson in Late Imperial Russia
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Washington Press
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This book has been eleven years in the making, from the moment of its conceptualization in the Smolensk Regional Archive in December 1989 to my submission of the final version in December 2000. When I read my first fire materials in what was then the USSR, I had access to world news in Moscow primarily via BBC radio. ...
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In 1865, upon taking his oath as heir to the throne of Russia, the future tsar Alexander III issued an official rescript to the minister of the interior, P. A. Valuev. To mark the momentous occasion and show his concern for the people who would fall under his care, Alexander offered financial assistance to victims ...
Part One: From Benevolent Force to National Misfortune: Fire's Contested Meanings in Rural Russia
1. Fire as Gentle Cookery and Paradise: Peasants as Mistresses and Masters of Fire
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In central, European Russia, the day began in a peasant household when the mistress of the house rose in the darkness of early morning, often around four o'clock, to begin the three-hour process of firing up the family stove. To do so, she cleared out ashes from the previous day's burning, and perhaps gently removed a sleeping child ...
2. Fire as Apocalypse or Pathology: Peasants as Victims or Vectors of Fire
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As peasant women throughout European Russia were firing up their stoves on the morning of May 16, 1862, events in the imperial capital, St. Petersburg, began to assume a form that would bring those routines and peasants' fire practices in general under increasingly hostile and threatening scrutiny by Russia's educated society. ...
3. Fire as Russia's Historical Evil: Peasants Dispossessed by Fire
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When Ivan Stoliarov composed a memoir of his peasant childhood in Voronezh Province in the 1890s, he placed a fire at the very genesis of his consciousness. "My first memory is connected with our house burning down. I woke up in the middle of the night because someone was screaming, 'We're burning!' ...
Part Two: Letting Loose the Red Booster: Arson in Rural Russia
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Drought struck Penza Province in the summer of 1897, leaving the village of Stepanovka to desiccate in the heat during three weeks without rain. Having watched the sky from dawn to dark for one day too many, searching for any hint of clouds that might bring water to their thirsty crops and shrinking streams, ...
4. The Fiery Brand, Russian Style: Arson as Protest, Peasants as Incendiaries
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Arson occupied a prominent place in late imperial rural Russia. Both the Ministry of Interior statistics and the relative space devoted to arson in public debates pointed to accidental village fires as the larger threat to the empire, but arson fires also loomed large in Russia's fire experience and in the public imagination. ...
5. Arson as Impotent Spite or Potent Practice: Peasants as Vengeful, Covetous, or Wily Actors
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Fires set by peasant women within their own communities were the most alarming of all fires to educated observers. This is startling in the context of the St. Petersburg arson fires of 1862 and the anxiety about controlling both peasants and fire in the countryside that they generated, and against the backdrop of ...
Part Three: Mobilizing to Make Russia Modern: Insuring, Planning, Volunteering
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The failure of the imperial government to diminish the fires of rural Russia was self-evident to virtually all observers by the 1880s. Neither codes nor courts nor constables were displaying much success in preventing accidental and intentional fires in the countryside. As educated members of society moved into a period of ...
6. Fire as Insurance Hazard: Peasants as Students of Prudence and Precaution
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Imagine that you have just arrived in a village in European Russia on a late spring day in 1880. Your team of three has pulled your carriage down the straight dirt road, which is still muddy from the spring thaws (fig. 6.1). Something of a crowd has gathered, congregating around one house, where you spy a group of men ...
7. Fire Contained in the Planned Village: Peasants as Residents in a Disciplined Domestic Order
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New definitions of house and home, as well as mathematization of space in the community, had begun to show up by the 1890s in property disputes among peasants in Novgorod Province. Their facility with the language of fire hazards appears in the records of local courts. In July 1891, for example, the peasant ...
8. Fire as the Inernal Enemy: Peasants as Volunteer Firefighters
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From the 1860s to the first decade of the twentieth century, in literary depictions and eyewitness reports in newspapers, in government reports and responses to ethnographic surveys, the scene of a rural fire contained srock features and characters that added up to one overriding conclusion: it was complete and utter ...
9. Conclusion: Fire as an Imperial Legacy, Peasants as Partners in Progress
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In the autumn of 1901 and spring of 1902, peasant unrest gripped much of southern and southwestern Russia. The burning of gentry estates featured prominently in it. From Ekaterinoslavl Province, a local official reported that "a genuine arson epidemic has broken out in many, many villages." ...
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Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: A Samuel and Althea Stroum Book