Wednesday, January 18, 2023

‘Golden Age of Local History Movement’ Ended when Stalin Suppressed It in 1929

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 14 – In 1929, Stalin repressed the local history movement, the term for a congeries of historians, artists, and others who focused on the past and present of regions of the USSR during the first decade of Soviet power because he was against any activities he didn’t control and feared attention to local and regional developments would threaten central control.

            After glasnost began, local studies began to revive with hundreds of books and articles as well as Internet posts and television stories by local people about their own areas and by the beginning of the 2000s, local studies were a regular feature in school programs throughout the Russian Federation.

            Today, the future of local history is again under threat and for the same reason that it was in 1929. Too much attention to local events calls into question the single stream of Russian history that the Kremlin insists on, and so what had been an echo of the triumphs of the 1920s may be fading.

            Some in the movement are coping by focusing on those developments which do not challenge Putin’s vision or even by focusing on the past of regional studies in places the Kremlin leader wants to absorb into the Russian Federation such as Crimea because in that case regional studies can fit in more easily with the common narrative.

            Historian Sergey Filimonov does so in “The Activity of Local Studies Activists in Russia in the First Post-Revolutionary Years in Establishing and Using Contemporary Sources (1917-1929)” in a collection entitled Actual Questions of History, Historiography and Source Studies in the South of Russia (

            “Few today know that in those complicated years a powerful local history movement arose,” Filimonov writes. “Its broad extend and scholarly and cultural importance permitted Academician Sigurd Shmidt to describe this period as ‘the golden decade’ of Soviet local historical studies.”

            Shmidt’s student, Filimonov, is able to extend this history by focusing on Russian scholars, artists, and literary figures who passed through South Russia in general and Crimea in particular during and after the Russian Civil War. His article thus unites local history and national history and makes it acceptable in Russia today.

            One can only be saddened that such a combination is becoming increasingly necessary in Putin’s time, but one can only welcome the new information it is bringing to light about an aspect of Russian history that has long been ignored, an example perhaps of the ancient observation that there is no dark cloud without some silver lining.

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