- Zhurnalistika i istoricheskaia nauka
Those of us who subscribe to the early Russian studies listserv had the opportunity a few months ago to eavesdrop on a timely interchange on the vexing problem of making scholarship published in Western Europe and North America more available to colleagues working in Russia.1 The discussion was initiated by a query over physical access: how can we get more of our books and articles into their hands? Quickly, however, it moved on to a sensitive question of language: does accessibility require that Western scholarship be regularly translated into Russian, and if so, by whom, or is access in the original language sufficient? Hovering just beneath the surface were several complicated and emotionally-charged issues that I suspect were on everyone's mind, involving cultural and academic exchanges across borders, real and imagined; the implied unidirectional quality of the dilemma (i.e., getting our books over there); and the shape of academic discourse in general, and Russian historiography in particular.
As someone with more than a passing interest in the historical interplay of communications technology and cultural practices, I followed this discussion attentively and on many levels. Here we were in cyberspace, a medium that lays claim to geographic transcendence and to obliterating the need for physical access (yet one more communications revolution), conversing (in English) with colleagues from nearly all corners of the Slavic scholarly world, including several from Russia, about access to the scholarly word across the boundaries of space, time, and language! So much of this experience lay beyond the imagination a mere 10 or 15 years ago, so many barriers overcome. A discursive community in a truly global sense. And yet, there we were in our separate locations reproducing those most familiar of antinomies: Russia-and-the-West, and modernity vs. backwardness.
I thought about this e-mail chat several times while reading Mokhnacheva's two volumes, a massive (900 pages!) and self-described non-traditional study of Russian journalism and historical writing in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sensitive [End Page 789] to issues of media, Mokhnacheva argues that, as frequently-published periodicals, Russian journals were particularly sensitive to, and reflective of, the latest ideas among authors and readers alike. Journalism and the production of scholarly knowledge (naukotvorchestvo) were professionally inseparable until at least the 1830s, she maintains, and almost all new historical writing was likely to appear first in journals, at least until the 1870s. Thus, while history as a separate profession may not have emerged before the mid-19th century, serious historical writing did, and journalism was its medium of choice.
In many ways the two volumes could not be more different. The first volume begins by laying out a complex and ambitious abstract framework, constructed around four themes: 1) "the phenomenology of the dialogics of thinking as an epistemological paradigm of the culture of scientific creativity"; 2) "the semantics of the sign systems of journalism and science in their development throughout the 18th and 19th centuries"; 3) "an analysis of the primary sources for the study of journalism (journalistic periodicals) which are viewed here from the vantage point of the problem of the inter-relationship of textual strategies and the intentions of authors, editors, and censors"; 4) "the history of the birth of the branching out of Russian historical journalism as in its everyday character based on the example of the phenomenon of the 'jour fixe' (zhurfiks) in both the capital and the provinces" (5).
Although these themes disappear for long stretches, they do periodically resurface throughout volume 1, which takes the story up to 1830. Interestingly, the textual herald for these themes is Vissarion Grigor'evich Belinskii, whose aphoristic forays declaiming the primacy of concrete experience recur at critical junctures throughout the text. Mokhnacheva is particularly well attuned to the varied deployment of literary and scientific language in journals, and it is here where she...