Staunton, June 24 – For decades, it has been a mantra among students of Russia that all will be revealed “when the archives are open.” But in almost all cases, reflecting the hyper-centralization of the Russian state, most who say this are thinking only about the archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg and generally ignore archives in the regions.
That is a mistake, especially for the North Caucasus, Sergey Manyshev, a historian who specializes on that area in the 19th century. There, regional, local, and ministerial archives contain many items not to be found in the archives of the center; and anyone who wants to work on the region needs to focus on those (kavkazr.com/a/31322302.html).
This requires knowledge both about the state of archives in different parts of the region – the archives in Daghestan are the richest, those of Stavropol Kray valuable, and those of Chechnya almost non-existent because of the destruction of most of their holdings during the post-Soviet wars – and also their complex history.
Many of the archives in the region today are not located where they initially were but have been moved about. Some have had their collections diminished by transfers to Moscow, but others have succeeded in getting copies from the central archives back so as to complete the historical record.
Some of the archives are in poor condition, and many users find it difficult to decipher them. Copying can only be done through the administrations of the archives and is often prohibitively expensive, especially when someone is attempting to publish a collection of basic documents on a subject.
But the materials in these regional archives are so rich that they should not be ignored either by regional historians or by outsiders working on the history of the North Caucasus. Manyshev urges that those beginning research on this area should focus first of all on published collectives of archival documents rather than on scholarly studies.
The former are typically better guides to where those doing research should focus their attention, he continues. And that attention, Manyshev reaffirms should be on regional and local archives, although he says no one should ignore the collections at the center given how many items have been transferred there.
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