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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6.3 (2005) 615-625

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Irina Paert, Old Believers, Religious Dissent, and Gender in Russia, 1760–1850. 257 pp. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. ISBN 0719063221. $74.95.

Students of pre-reform Russia have traditionally known more about the autocracy's theoretical deliberations and legal enactments than about its dialectical relationship with the empire's population. The value of the books under review here derives in no small measure from their focus on that very relationship.

At one level, the two books are quite dissimilar. Liudmila Artamonova focuses on the dynamics of soslovie (estate) relations and institution-building in a provincial region over the course of less than two decades, whereas Irina Paert deals with the nexus of religion and gender, principally in Moscow, over nearly a century. Artamonova's study, while structured around a thought-provoking thesis, rarely ventures far beyond the empirical matters addressed in the archival sources and quantitative data on which it relies; Paert, by contrast, places her material in a far broader context and ranges freely from early Christian theology to the gender conceptions underlying the Victorian family. Yet in important ways, Artamonova and Paert address related issues. Both discuss how the administrative centralization and cosmopolitan secularism of "enlightened absolutism" interacted with social strata that were traditionalistic but interested, in their own way, in education and modern intellectual life. Both authors therefore address two themes that are as important as they are understudied: the emergence of a culture that was rooted in the urban and/or provincial middle classes and was distinct from both the high culture of the Westernized elite and the traditional folk culture of the masses; and the peculiar conservatism of social groups that found the structures of the ancien régime congenial even though they were themselves [End Page 615] far from the top of the totem pole.1 In the process, the two authors bolster the argument, presented in the recent studies of Russian elite culture by Cynthia Hyla Whittaker and Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter, that late 18th-century Russia's urban and_/or educated society was diverse and pluralistic but also experienced a broad convergence of values on key ideological issues of the day.2

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Liudmila Artamonova describes how Catherine II's effort to build a network of public elementary schools affected the region from the middle Volga to the southern Urals, from the reforms' inception in the 1780s until the next wave of reforms was undertaken by Alexander I in 1803–4. Regional history has long been a specialty of scholars from the Russian provinces; and the introduction makes clear Artamonova's awareness of the genre's pitfalls, particularly when practitioners of kraevedenie marshal poorly digested evidence from narrowly local sources in support of shopworn generalizations about the course of Russian history (12–13). To avoid any mismatch between her data and her conclusions, she casts her net widely, integrating quantitative and narrative sources, legislative and bureaucratic materials, and data from central as well as local state agencies. While the book shares the "factological" bent that is common in much Russian scholarship, Artamonova analyzes her mass of data in a sophisticated manner to document a coherent, thought-provoking argument.

Her starting point is that the cultural impact of the Petrine reforms and of their 18th-century aftermath was narrowly circumscribed because of the absence of an educational system that could spread the new culture to wider social groups. After Peter's efforts to create an all-soslovie network of tsifirnye shkoly had failed, the schools fostered by the state were instead specific to particular sosloviia (such as the clergy, the army, and the nobility), relied on obsolete pedagogical methods, and had an educational purpose that was narrowly utilitarian. They commonly had to use coercion to recruit students, while their teachers lacked pedagogical training and educational materials, taught students of all ages and levels simultaneously, and relied on rote...


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