- The Standard of Living and Revolutions in Russia, 1700–1917 by Boris Mironov
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In this fundamental study, renowned Russian historian Boris Mironov examines the historical dynamics of the Russian Empire through the prism of evolving populations' living standards. In the preface, he promises to challenge conventional historiographic views on the dynamics and weighty factors of Russia's social and economic development. Specifically, the book is positioned as the first comprehensive study of the "anthropometric" history of imperial Russia, based on extensive archival evidence from 1700 to 1917.
This voluminous 668-page study consists of ten chapters and statistical appendixes that occupy 30 percent of the book. Logically starting with general methodological chapters, the author consistently proceeds to a detailed analysis of specific indicators of the standard of living and conclusions about Russia's modernization and its population's well-being. Chapter 1 compares views on living standards in imperial Russia in domestic and international historiography and discusses their limitations, arguing the need for the historical anthropometric approach. Chapter 2 explains the basics of historical anthropometrics, its methodology, indicators, and restrictions. Chapter 3 presents the sources of anthropometric data, their representativeness, and the principles of organization in the author's database. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the biological status of the population, studied mainly based on the statistics of army recruits. Chapter 6 considers regional differences in height distribution and includes statistical analysis of geographic correlations of height, mortality, [End Page 436] and marriage. Chapter 7 reconstructs living standards through various indicators of consumption, health, and biological status. Chapter 8 examines the dynamics of wages and prices in imperial Russia, attempting to construct indexes of consumer prices and nominal and real wages. Chapter 9 presents the contemporaneous assessments of the population's standard of living. Chapter 10 generalizes the results of analysis of statistics and narrative sources in preceding chapters. It summarizes the author's views of modernization in the Russian Empire, the well-being of its population, domestic policies, and the effectiveness of the state reforms.
Mironov's fundamental study transcends the research agenda and approaches of modern mainstream historiographies of imperial Russia. He offers a truly multifaceted survey of the living conditions over the period of two centuries to prove that there were no objective reasons for revolution. Mironov consistently refutes two ideas: the concept of Russia's Sonderweg and the theory that systematic crises of the imperial regime prompted revolutions. His analysis of anthropometric indicators, environmental conditions, vital statistics, consumption patterns, wages, and prices support the book's favorable assessment of the empire's development.
Published six years ago, this book has already been widely discussed by scholars, so in this review I will try to avoid repeating the praise and criticism of previous reviewers. The critiques have mainly concerned certain distortions in the data analysis and misinterpretation of the primary sources. Quantitative researchers of historical dynamics have also challenged certain methodological aspects of Mironov's use of statistics.1 To be fair, tackling a multifactor problem situated at the intersection of several disciplines of social sciences and humanities makes criticism of the author's method or data analysis inevitable. The methodologically provocative nature of the study under review, however, underscores the need to follow with particular care the conventions of data analysis as the main foundation of the author's conclusions.
The application of the statistical approach to the massive amount of data collected at different times and [End Page 437] using various criteria requires additional clarification of the methods of quantitative analysis employed in this book. In many cases, Mironov's argument is based on a simple comparison of data in the form of arranged statistical series in tables. Especially when the data are attributed to different time periods, it would be logical to see a graph with regression analysis or at least a correlation showing the relationship between these indicators instead of raw data. This was clearly needed in Table 2.2...