- Культура повседневности провинциального города: Казань и казанцы в ХIХ–ХХ веках by Е. А. Вишленкова, С. Ю. Малышева, А. А. Сальникова
Well-illustrated books on local history occupy pride of place in the bookstores of most major Russian and Ukrainian cities. There is an interesting phenomenon at work here that deserves separate analysis: Is this new antiquarianism a sign of resistance to grand narratives or a consequence of their acceptance? Either way, modern urbanites’ interest in detailed accounts of their cities’ past coincides luckily with the history profession’s move into the history of everyday life (istoriia povsednevnosti), particularly in urban history.
Why studying the history of everyday life has become such a prominent field in post-Soviet states is in itself an important research question. In the introduction to their excellent book on Kazan, the three authors speak in more general terms of the field’s transition from political history recording the deeds of “great men” and from social history that concentrates on societal processes to a cultural-historical focus on individual experiences. This statement, however, refers to trends in global historical scholarship rather than to the specific post-Soviet situation. One could argue that the Soviet historical profession did not practice social history as such and that mainstream post-Soviet historical scholarship reverted to traditional political history, if not to the “great men” theory of history.
In such a context, scholars working on the history of everydayness go against the prevalent trends. They commit themselves to reconstructing the lived experiences of ordinary people, which may not fit well into any of the grand narratives and would be difficult both to access and analyze. The historians of Russian everydayness also need to play methodological catch-up: by taking a crash course in modern Western social history, cultural history, and microhistory before advancing to a meaningful study of everyday life. Otherwise, the everydayness they find may be simply descriptive and not tell us anything significant about the people and society in which they lived.
Vishlenkova, Malysheva, and Salnikova are perfectly aware of the theoretical and methodological traps awaiting historians of Russian everydayness. Working closely with students also helped the authors to structure the book wisely. The authors did not simply test parts of [End Page 570] the manuscript in the classroom, but also incorporated the results of student class assignments in the form of interviews with family members – a perfect synergy between teaching and research. The book’s origins in a course also explain the authors’ decision to include in Chapter 1, which examines the theory and method of “provincial everydayness,” Alf Lüdtke’s essay on “What Is the History of Everyday Life?” almost in its entirety. The themes raised in this famous text are not really developed in the book, but reading it does provide a helpful reminder that Western history of everyday life was born out of neo-Marxist social history, a field that post-Soviet historians could find vaguely familiar.
It is difficult to put this book down, both because the authors write exquisite prose and because Kazan is such a fascinating subject. A major university city described by many travelers and memoirists, it was nevertheless the epitome of “provinciality,” and the authors rightly interpret it as such, except that provinciality in this case does not imply deficiency, but difference. Unlike the two Russian capitals, Kazan preserved its multicultural character over the centuries without ethnic strife and was never a major center of the Bolshevik Revolution. Indeed, it preserved the old city layout well into the age of modernity, the distant suburbs finally coalescing into a contiguous city space only in the 1960s.
In a book that is rich in fascinating detail and covers almost two centuries of a big city’s life, sustaining any consistent, general argument would have been difficult. The authors of this book spell out their general theoretical vision of Kazan’s everydayness. They believe that in the nineteenth century the everyday lives of different strata remained largely “segregated” (obosoblennye, P. 9) and thus are best studied one by one. In contrast, Soviet everydayness was considerably more homogeneous, if fast-changing, and therefore was best suited to a chronological study as a unified phenomenon.
Such a distinction...