Information and Empire - Katherine Bowers - ebook

From the mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century Russia was transformed from a moderate-sized, land-locked principality into the largest empire on earth. How did systems of information and communication shape and reflect this extraordinary change?Information and Mechanisms of Communication in Russia, 1600-1850 brings together a range of contributions to shed some light on this complex question. Communication networks such as the postal service and the gathering and circulation of news are examined alongside the growth of a bureaucratic apparatus that informed the government about its country and its people. The inscription of space is considered from the point of view of mapping and the changing public ‘graphosphere’ of signs and monuments. More than a series of institutional histories, this book is concerned with the way Russia discovered itself, envisioned itself and represented itself to its people.Innovative and scholarly, this collection breaks new ground in its approach to communication and information as a field of study in Russia. More broadly, it is an accessible contribution to pre-modern information studies, taking as its basis a country whose history often serves to challenge habitual Western models of development. It is important reading not only for specialists in Russian Studies, but also for students and non-Russianists who are interested in the history of information and communications.

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Information and Empire

Mechanisms of Communication in Russia,1600–1850

Edited by Simon Franklin and Katherine Bowers

© 2017 Simon Franklin and Katherine Bowers.

Copyright of each chapter is maintained by the author.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0). This license allows you to share, copy, distribute and transmit the work; to adapt the work and to make commercial use of the work providing attribution is made to the authors (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Attribution should include the following information:

Simon Franklin and Katherine Bowers, Information and Empire: Mechanisms of Communication in Russia, 1600–1850. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2017,

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ISBN Paperback: 978–1-78374–373–5

ISBN Hardback: 978–1-78374–374–2

ISBN Digital (PDF): 978–1-78374–375–9

ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 978–1-78374–376–6

ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 978–1-78374–377–3

DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0122

Cover image: Top: Clement Cruttwell, Map of the Russian Empire, in Atlas to Cruttwell’s Gazetteer, 1799, image by Geographicus Fine Antique Maps ( Bottom: image from the first Italian edition of Sigismund von Herberstein’s description of Muscovy (Venice, 1550), private collection.

Cover design by Katherine Bowers and Corin Throsby.

All paper used by Open Book Publishers is SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative), PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes) and Forest Stewardship Council(r)(FSC(r) certified.

Printed in the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia by Lightning Source for Open Book Publishers (Cambridge, UK)




Notes on Contributors



Simon Franklin




Early Mapping: The Tsardom in Manuscript

Valerie Kivelson



New Technology and the Mapping of Empire: The Adoption of the Astrolabe

Aleksei Golubinskii




Muscovy and the European Information Revolution: Creating the Mechanisms for Obtaining Foreign News

Daniel C. Waugh and Ingrid Maier



How Was Western Europe Informed about Muscovy? The Razin Rebellion in Focus

Ingrid Maier




Communication and Obligation: The Postal System of the Russian Empire, 1700–1850

John Randolph



Information and Efficiency: Russian Newspapers, ca.1700–1850

Alison K. Smith



What Was News and How Was It Communicated in Pre-Modern Russia?

Daniel C. Waugh




Bureaucracy and Knowledge Creation: The Apothecary Chancery

Clare Griffin



What Could the Empress Know About Her Money? Russian Poll Tax Revenues in the Eighteenth Century

Elena Korchmina



Communication and Official Enlightenment: The Journal of the Ministry of Public Education, 1834–1855

Ekaterina Basargina




Information in Plain Sight: The Formation of the Public Graphosphere

Simon Franklin



Experiencing Information: An Early Nineteenth-Century Stroll Along Nevskii Prospekt

Katherine Bowers


Selected Further Reading


List of Figures





This volume had its genesis in the project “Information Technologies in Russia, 1450–1850”, led by Simon Franklin. We are grateful to Cambridge University and the Leverhulme Trust for their generous support of the project.

The volume grew out of the discussions at the symposium “Information Technologies and Transfer, 1450–1850”, co-organised by Katherine Bowers and Simon Franklin, and held at Darwin College, Cambridge in September 2014. The symposium was made possible by a Research Network Workshop Grant from the Centre for East European Language-Based Area Studies, and funding from the Dame Elizabeth Hill Fund and the Department of Slavonic Studies at Cambridge University. We thank all of the symposium participants for facilitating such a vibrant discussion.

We wish to particularly thank Professor Don Ostrowski of Harvard University for his sage comments as we began to plan the volume, as well as the comments of the three anonymous readers who reviewed the manuscript and provided valuable feedback.

Last, but not least, we are grateful to our editor, Alessandra Tosi, who has supported this volume from its earliest stages, and her team at Open Book Publishers.

Notes on Contributors

Ekaterina Basargina is a Senior Researcher in the St Petersburg Branch of the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Her research mainly focusses on the history of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Her publications include: The Imperial Academy of Sciences at the Turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries (in Russian, 2008), The Russian Academician G. H. Langsdorff and his Travels to Brazil, 1803–29 (in Russian, 2016, ed.), The Department of Russian Language and Literature of the Imperial Academy of Sciences During the First 50 Years of its Activities, 1841–91 (in Russian, 2017, with O. Kirikova). She won the Macarius Prize in 2004.

Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. Her research interest is nineteenth-century Russian literature and cultural history, and she is currently working on a book about the influence of gothic fiction on Russian realism. Other publications include Russian Writers at the Fin de Siècle: The Twilight of Realism (2015, ed., with A. Kokobobo) and A Dostoevskii Companion: Texts and Contexts (forthcoming 2018, eds., with C. Doak and K. Holland). From 2012–14 she was Research Associate on the project, “Information Technologies in Russia, 1450–1850”, led by Simon Franklin, and a Research Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge.

Simon Franklin is Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. He has written widely on the history and culture of early Rus, Muscovy and Russia. Books include The Emergence of Rus 700–1200 (1996, with Jonathan Shepard), Writing, Society and Culture in Early Rus, c. 950–1300 (2002), and National Identity in Russian Culture: an Introduction (2004, ed., with Emma Widdis).His recent research has focussed on the social and cultural history of technologies of the word in Russia in the late medieval and early modern periods (ca.1450–1850).

Aleksei Golubinskii is a Lead Researcher in the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents (since 2007) and a Junior Researcher at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences (since 2016). A specialist in eighteenth–century history, his research interests include the General Land Survey, GIS, peasant literacy, and cartography. He recently collaborated on the project Cities of the Russian Empire from the Economic Notes of the General Land Survey (in Russian, 2016, eds., with D. A. Chernenko and D. A. Khitrov). Currently he is a participant in the project “16th- and 17th-century Drawings of the Russian State”. He also created and maintains the website of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents.

Clare Griffin is an Assistant Professor of the History of Science and Technology at Nazarbayev University (Astana, Kazakhstan). She is the author of ‘In Search of an Audience: Popular Pharmacies and the Limits of Literate Medicine in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century Russia’, Bulletin for the History of Medicine, 89 (2015), and ‘Russia and the Medical Drug Trade in the Seventeenth Century’, Social History of Medicine, forthcoming. Her current research considers the role of the Russian Empire in early modern commodity and knowledge exchanges relating to medicaments.

Valerie Kivelson is Thomas N. Tentler Collegiate Professor and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Cartographies of Tsardom: The Land and Its Meanings in Seventeenth Century Russia (2006), Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia (2013), and most recently, with Ronald G. Suny, Russia’s Empires (2016). With Joan Neuberger, she edited Picturing Russia: Explorations in Visual Culture (2008), and her current work brings together her interest in empire and the visual.

Elena Korchmina is a Research Associate at New York University in Abu Dhabi. She has published several articles in Rossiiskaia istoriia, most recently under the title ‘“… v chest′ vziatok ne davat′… ”: kak “pochest′”stanovitsia “vziatkoi” v postpetrovskoi Rossii’ [‘… don’t give bribes in honour…’: how gifts became bribes in Post-Petrine Russia’] (no. 2, 2015). Her most recent publication is the chapter ‘The Practice of Personal Finance and the Problem of Debt Among the Noble Elite in Eighteenth Century Russia’, in The Europeanized Elite in Russia, 1762–1825. Public Role and Subjective Self, A. Schönle, A. Zorin, A. Evstratov, eds. (2016). Her research interests are in the economic history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia and in the history of the Russian nobility and noble self-government.

Ingrid Maier is a Professor of Russian in the Department of Modern Languages at Uppsala University. Her research interests lie in the history of Russian language and culture, especially aspects of influences between Western Europe and Russia. Some of the main topics of her recent research concern translations of European (above all German and Dutch) newspapers into Russian during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (“Vesti-Kuranty”) and the history of the Russian court theatre at the time of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich. Her most recent book is The Court Theatre in Russia during the Seventeenth Century: New Sources (in Russian, 2016, with Claudia Jensen).

John Randolph is a specialist in imperial Russian history, and an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of The House in the Garden: The Bakunin Family and the Romance of Russian Idealism (2007) and co-editor of Russia in Motion: Cultures of Mobility, 1850-Present (2012).

Alison K. Smith is a Professor in the History Department at the University of Toronto, and the author of two books: Recipes for Russia: Food and Nationhood under the Tsars (2008) and For the Common Good and Their Own Well-Being: Social Estates in Imperial Russia (2014). Her current research focuses on the palace of Gatchina and its surrounding area, examining the ways that individual subjects of the Russian Empire interacted directly with imperial authority.

Daniel Waugh, Professor Emeritus of History, International Studies and Slavic at the University of Washington (Seattle), has written extensively on Muscovite book culture, on the history of the “Great Game” rivalries over control of Central Asia, and on the historic “Silk Roads”. He is co-author with Ingrid Maier of a forthcoming book on news in Muscovy, and for over a decade has edited an annual, The Silk Road.


Simon Franklin

© 2017 Simon Franklin, CC BY 4.0

The title and subtitle of this book need some decipherment in order to focus and limit expectations regarding its contents. What is here meant by the mundane yet historically slippery word “information”? Within that, what is implied by the phrase “mechanisms of communication” in the subtitle? Easiest to locate should be the “empire” in question: it is Russia. However, the Russian state was formally designated an empire from 1721 to 1917, a period which does not at either end coincide with the chronological boundaries of the present volume, ca.1600–1850. This, too, will require prefatory explanation.

The study of information and communication has become central to our understanding of the world in which we live. However, this truism of modernity also has implications for our understanding of pre-modernity. The means and the mechanisms change, but systems of information and communication have always been central to the ways in which humans operate in societies and states. All ages are, in their own ways, “information ages”. Therefore, prompted in part by discussion of the significance of information in the present and future, historians have increasingly turned to investigating the mechanisms, functions and significance of information in the past. Or so it appears. In fact, of course, historians have been doing so for far longer than is sometimes assumed or claimed. The study of information, of its organisation, encoding, storage, retrieval and uses, is integral to well-established fields such as the history of the book, libraries, archives, intelligence and espionage, or structures and methods of governance and administration. At the more general level, influential modern studies of the social, cultural, economic and political implications of the major pre-modern technologies of information—writing and printing—have long been established without necessarily labelling them as such.1

What is, perhaps, relatively new is the focus on the word and the concept of “information” itself. Often the word provides little more than new packaging for, or a new angle of vision on, quite traditional types of granular study.2 More substantive, however, is the foregrounding or upgrading of claims for the importance of information as a key (for some, the key) to understanding major cultural phenomena and historical processes. For example, Jacob Soll titles his study of Louis XIV’s Minister of Finances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–83), The Information Master, arguing that Colbert, with his almost obsessive appetite for acquiring and ordering information of many kinds, played an important role in the development of the modern bureaucratic state.3 Similarly, for Edward Higgs the history of the “information state” tracks the ways in which the state has gathered information on its citizens (although Higgs stresses consensual aspects of the process).4 By contrast, Steven G. Marks proposes that an “information nexus” was a major factor in the rise of capitalism.5 Away from such large-scale conceptualisations, there is also a new interest in the micro-mechanisms and manipulations of information, as, for example, through rumour and gossip.6

In the wake of information in history comes the history of information. Does information as such have a history? Does the accumulation of particular studies feed into a synthetic discipline, a historical phenomenology of information? The transition sounds obvious but is not straightforward. In the first place, no less obviously, if we want to deal with the thing itself rather than with diverse aspects of its functioning, we have to be clearer about what the thing is. The broadest definitions are far too capacious to be historically useful.7 Almost anything can be deemed a container or bearer of information. Some objects that are deliberately used for information storage are designated through natural metaphors—books have always had leaves, computing now has clouds—but non-metaphorical leaves and clouds, on plants and trees and in the sky, can also be deemed to be rich sources of information, whether for botanists and climate scientists, or for anybody out for a walk or looking through a window. And that is before we begin to think of the almost mythically complex information stored chemically in the double helices of deoxyribonucleic acid. Adding to the potential confusion, there is the contiguous or overlapping but far from identical field of informatics, or information science.

It helps a little, but not enough, to apply a common distinction between information and mere data.8 Data simply exist, information is determined by human agency. Information consists of those data or combinations of data which people choose to regard as informative. It is the “deeming” that turns data into information, not any feature of content or mode of organisation. Data become information in the process of being observed. From this point of view, information is something that is created, not just something that is. Information, to put it glibly, is a cultural construct. However, this still does not take us very far from the all-encompassing concept. Is Information History the study of changing criteria of informativeness and/or of the nature and functions and uses of the things deemed to be informative? The scope remains daunting, the opportunities for multi-disciplinary dialogue are legion, and the likelihood of unforced, persuasive theoretical cohesion seems low. It may be no accident that a collection of studies on Information History, edited by one of the pioneers and advocates of the field, was reckoned by reviewers to be, despite the framing discourse, more like a collection of studies on—once more—information in history.9 The filter is disciplinary and the argument is circular.

All this is by way of an excuse, not entirely disreputable, for the lack of an overarching theoretical framework, or, if one prefers a more fundamental metaphor, for the lack of a solid theoretical base, for the chapters in the present volume. They are “aspects of…”, “studies in…”. However, to abjure cohesiveness and comprehensiveness is not the same as to accept (let alone justify) randomness or amorphousness. The studies here have a context and focus. While not being consistently or explicitly comparative, they can add to the wider discussion.

The chronological scope of this book reflects, approximately, what tends to be termed Russia’s Early Modern period: that is, the period covering the territorial and institutional expansion of the Muscovite state and its transition to (and the further growth of) empire. Here, too, we enter a potential quagmire of questionable concepts and definitions. The label “Early Modern” is derived from conventional periodisations of the history of Western Europe. As usual, the attempt to apply a West European conceptual template to Russia is problematic.10 Over the past couple of centuries the pendulum of interpretation has swung several times between emphasis on Russian equivalence and insistence on Russian difference. We cannot here be concerned with the theologies of Russian identity: the extent to which Russia, though individual, was essentially European, or essentially Asiatic, or whether it was entirely distinctive, sui generis, a “Eurasian” phenomenon all of its own. Comparative studies of empires have brought a more nuanced appreciation of multiple affinities and differences.11 Notwithstanding, in the present context the principal area of comparison, both implied and, in places, explicit, is Western Europe. Many of the information structures and practices here explored were to varying degrees expressly derived from West European models. This does not mean that information practices in Russia straightforwardly mirrored their putative prototypes. In several cases the process of “translation” entailed quite radical functional transformations. The mutations of cultural transfer are as informative as the ostensible equivalences.

As an exercise in very crude modelling, we can imagine two types of information flow in relation to the state. One type of information flow involves information gathered to or emanating from the state, the other type involves information travelling between points within the state (or across borders at the non-state level). The first type might be visualised as vertical, or as radial, depending on whether one chooses to see the state as the summit or the centre. The “radial” notion better accommodates cross-border information flow to or from the state, since the relevant lines can simply be continued outwards. The second type—information flow contained within the state—can be seen as lateral, horizontal. Broadly speaking, when Soll discusses information in relation to the emergence of the “modern administrative state”, he is dealing predominantly with vertical or radial flow, whereas Steven Marks’s notion of an “information nexus” in the rise of capitalism is concerned predominantly with lateral flows. Variations in the nature of each and in the balance between the two may reflect and/or contribute to distinctive features of information structures and communicative mechanisms in a given society. Again at the level of very crude generalisation, in Russia the dominant mode was vertical or radial for most of the relevant period. Horizontal information flow, though not entirely negligible, began to develop rapidly only from the end of the eighteenth century.

Some of the nuances and manifestations of this changing relationship emerge from the case studies in the present volume. However, two contextual points should be signalled in advance. One of them relates to space and geopolitical structures, the other relates to technology.

The geopolitical aspect is the formation and growth of the Russian Empire. From the mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century Russia was transformed from the moderate-sized, land-locked Muscovite principality into the largest empire on earth, or at any rate the largest to be based on a continuous land-mass, without overseas territories or colonies (except for Alaska). As one would expect in an expanding state, the same period saw the growth of an administrative apparatus. From the late fifteenth century to the end of the seventeenth century the administrative functions were allocated to chanceries (prikazy). Overall a total of some 150 chanceries were founded. Some were short-lived, others became permanent institutions. Over the course of the seventeenth century there was an average of around sixty to seventy active chanceries at any given time. Hardy perennials included those responsible for gathering census data (the earliest of which date from the late fifteenth century) and the Diplomatic Chancery (or “Ambassadorial” Chancery—posol′skii prikaz). The chanceries varied hugely in size and in specificity of function. For example, in the late seventeenth century the Apothecary Chancery (aptekarskii prikaz)employed, apart from its medical specialists, just two clerks, while the Service Land Chancery (pomestnyi prikaz) employed almost five hundred clerks.12 In a series of measures between 1717 and 1720 Peter I streamlined the structure of Imperial administration by setting up, in place of the chanceries, a far smaller number of “colleges” (initially nine, then twelve). In 1802 Alexander I replaced the colleges with ministries. The case studies in the present volume consider aspects of the functioning of all three—seventeenth-century chanceries, eighteenth-century colleges, and nineteenth-century ministries—in the dynamics of information in the service of the state.

As regards the technologies of information, Russia lacked, or failed to make equivalent use of, some of the tools often associated with the emergence of the empires of Western Europe. In Russia there was no early modern “print revolution”. The complex and far-reaching cultural, economic and social phenomena associated with the proliferation of printing presses across Europe in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries have no equivalent in Russia. Although printed books were imported and used in Russia at least from the late fifteenth century (for example, as sources for the creation of the first full Slavonic text of the Bible, completed in Novgorod in 1499), Muscovite printing did not begin until the 1550s, and it remained sporadic until the early seventeenth century. However, the disparity of chronology is not the main point. A major factor, perhaps the major factor, contributing to the disparities between the spread and impact of print in Russia and in Western Europe can be traced to differences not in chronology but in structure. The extraordinary proliferation of printing presses across Western Europe was market-driven: driven, that is, not by a market for any particular products (few could have afforded Johannes Gutenberg’s Bibles, even if they had desired to possess one), but by a market in the technology itself. The skills of printers were available for hire, whether to ambitious patrons or to any client prepared to pay for a job, however small. In contrast, in Muscovy, and in the Russian Empire almost until the end of the eighteenth century, there was a market in some of the products, but not in the technology itself. Presses were subject to financial constraints, but not to market forces. The means of production were in monopoly ownership.

From the mid-sixteenth century until the early eighteenth century there was, for most of the time, just one printing house in Muscovy, owned by the state, subject to a chancery, producing materials almost exclusively for the Church.13 Between the 1720s and the 1770s a handful of additional presses were licensed to institutions—the Academy of Sciences, the Holy Synod, the Senate, various cadet corps, Moscow University—but market-driven proliferation only began when the restrictions on ownership were relaxed in the 1780s.14 The issue here is not censorship. On the contrary, regular and regulated institutions of censorship only developed after the end of monopoly ownership.15 The issue is structural. Although handwriting was, of course, available and not susceptible to the restrictions of monopoly ownership, the lack of a market in the technology of print had implications for the balance between vertical and horizontal information flow in Muscovy and the Russian Empire. In France, for example, nearly six thousand printings of royal acts have been identified from the period before 1600, a substantial proportion of which were produced on the initiative of commercial bookseller-publishers rather than through the royal printers.16 In Russia before the early eighteenth century the Moscow Print Yard issued just one compilation of laws and just one separate governmental decree (on customs dues), in 1649 and 1654 respectively.17 In this aspect of its information resources, despite the leitmotif of contacts with and borrowings from Western Europe, Russia was generically closer to other empires which had extensive territory without distributed technology, such as the Ottoman Empire or China.18 Therefore, although several of the studies in the present volume highlight printed materials, the history of print as such does not figure as a major theme.

The case studies in this book mainly consider aspects of the vertical or radial flows of information—information to, from and for the state—although they also explore areas where the balance to some extent shifted, areas in which, rather late in the narrative, patterns of horizontal information flow began to become established. Apart from the direction, the particular focus of the volume is on the means: on mechanisms of communication. Like “information”, the notion of “mechanisms of communication” needs parameters in order to be useful in this context. For the most part, the “mechanisms” here are the institutional and procedural structures through which information was conveyed: the bureaucratic structures charged with the task (chanceries, colleges, ministries), the infrastructural networks set up for the purpose (postal services), the outward-facing media distributed or displayed for the purpose (newspapers, signboards). The underlying questions are simple. How did the growing state inform itself about itself—its physical and human geography, its economic activities? What mechanisms did it establish, when and how, for the flow of information from beyond its borders? When and how did it develop procedures for projecting information from or about itself, both internally and externally? How and when did autonomous (non-state) means emerge for the communication of information? What was the relationship between institutional structures and more traditional, informal modes of gathering and disseminating information?

The studies in this volume are organised into five sections. Section I charts the history of mapping. The first chapter (by Valerie Kivelson) considers the early and often informal attempts at map-making during the period of Russia’s expansion across Siberia, and analyses their implications for the way the nascent empire envisioned itself. These were not maps for publication and distribution, but mainly for reconnaissance and intelligence, and to clarify claims to property. The second chapter (by Aleksei Golubinskii) considers the next phase, imperial map-making from the mid-eighteenth century as an official enterprise, using scientific methods and instruments. The central episode, symbolically and practically, was the systematic import, and then the local manufacture, of West European (principally English) geodesic astrolabes (graphometers, semi-circumpherentors), the instruments reckoned essential for the first projected large-scale survey of the empire.

Section IIexplores the flow of information from and to Western Europe. In Chapter 3 Daniel C. Waugh and Ingrid Maier consider how, over the seventeenth century, a system emerged for the regular import of Western (mainly German and Dutch) newspapers. This was not in order to feed any public demand for the acquisition and dissemination of news, but rather the opposite. As they crossed the borders into Muscovy, the imported papers changed their function and their genre. Instead of broadening access to information, they were narrowly channelled into providing material for intelligence reports for the tsar. In Chapter 4 Maier introduces a case-study in the movement of information in the opposite direction, examining how Western reports of the insurrection, capture and execution of the infamous Cossack rebel, Stepan (“Stenka”) Razin, were, to an appreciable extent, informed by quite effective Muscovite propaganda.

In Section III the focus shifts to internal networks of news and communication. John Randolph examines the development, expansion and thickening, over the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, of Russia’s postal system, by horse relay. Apart from its principal function as the transport network that enabled communication of, and travel on, state business, the chapter highlights an aspect that has tended to receive little attention. The postal relays were supported through obligations imposed on local communities along the routes. There were social costs in the development of an information infrastructure. In Chapter 6 Alison K. Smith picks up the story of newspapers within Russia—that is, of Russian papers designed to disseminate “news”, rather than of foreign papers used as intelligence sources. The chapter highlights ways in which, especially as printing and publishing became more diffuse and more commercially orientated, successive governments tried to maintain the view that newspapers should “play roles in policing information”. In Chapter 7 Daniel C. Waugh steps back from the analysis of formal institutions, networks and publications. What sorts of information did a broader public consider to be newsworthy, and what were the informal means of transmission—including, for example, gossip and rumour—through which such unofficial “news” was disseminated? The chapter concludes with a study of how, once more in relation to the Razin revolt, the government investigation itself relied on such informal sources. Here again it becomes hard to draw a meaningful distinction between news and state information gathering or intelligence.

The three chapters in Section IV consider aspects of the bureaucracy as a medium for the gathering and/or dissemination of information. In chronological sequence, Clare Griffin (Chapter 8) shows how the Apothecary Chancery in the seventeenth century, though primarily serving the tsar and his family and entourage, also played a role in the creation and dissemination of medical knowledge in Russia. In Chapter 9 Elena Korchmina turns to the Imperial finances in the mid-eighteenth century. Through a detailed study of sources relating to the collection of the poll tax in the 1730s, she shows that the Imperial government was woefully under-informed about the dispersed processes and details of collection, but that this does not necessarily imply that Russia was “undergoverned”, since local cash-flows could nevertheless appear to be adequate. The study by Ekaterina Basargina (Chapter 10) is again about the dissemination rather than the gathering of information. Her subject is a remarkable journal, issued by the Ministry of Public Education (or, as one might more tendentiously translate it, the Ministry for the Enlightenment of the People). For a while in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, under the editorship of Count Sergei Uvarov, the Journal of the Ministry of Public Education extended its role beyond that of a repository of official information and discussion about education in Russia. Its mission to “enlighten” meant also conveying the fruits of learning, reflecting and publicising the scientific and scholarly preoccupations of the time.

Section Vturns from networks and institutions to public space, and asks the question: what kinds of information were communicated through open display in the urban environment? The “public graphosphere” of my contribution (Chapter 11) is formed by the writing visible in the outdoor spaces of the city, from tombstones and inscribed monuments to street signs and shop signs. The chapter surveys the emergence and growth of a public graphosphere in Russia and considers some of the main institutional impulses for its various stages of development from the mute spaces of the later Middle Ages to the relatively dense graphosphere of the mid-nineteenth century. In the final chapter (Chapter 12), Katherine Bowers moves from broad processes to the exploration of a specific graphospheric location at a particular time: Nevskii Prospekt, in St Petersburg, in the 1820s and 1830s. Based on a close reading of a contemporary lithographed “panorama” of Nevskii Prospekt, she sets out on a “virtual stroll” along St Petersburg’s most fashionable thoroughfare, taking in the shop-front information as part of the urban experience.

It would be premature to convert these few case studies into an integrated chronological narrative. Gaps gape. The sample analyses of a few administrative structures for information fall a very long way short of “coverage”. The surveys of postal systems presuppose the existence of the relevant roads, but otherwise lacking is any discussion of the physical infrastructures that enabled (or hindered) the movement of people and hence of information: rivers, roads, eventually railways. Because of the emphasis on “mechanisms of communication”, institutions for information storage and organisation (archives, libraries) do not figure, nor do changes in methods of recording, storage and retrieval such as the shift from archival scrolls to codices.19 The history of print is briefly summarised only in these introductory remarks, not backed up with a case study of its own. The history of handwriting—still the most common medium for the storage and distribution of non-spoken information right through to the mid-nineteenth century—is barely mentioned.

Nevertheless, some potential patterns suggest themselves. Until the end of the seventeenth century the organised mechanisms of communication were designed to gather, organise and convey information almost exclusively inwards and upwards to and for the state. This was a principal function of the chancery system. During this period the authorities paid relatively little attention to establishing means for channelling information outwards or downwards, apart from traditional modes of projection through images (as on coins, for example) and public ritual. The only institution with a network or locations and personnel geared to directing verbal messages outwards was the Church. Indeed, the one state chancery whose specific purpose was ostensibly the production and dissemination of information—the Print Chancery (prikaz knigopechatnogo dela), in charge of the Moscow Print Yard—in fact operated almost exclusively on behalf of the Church. Chanceries were not hermetically sealed, so some outward and downward seepage did occur, whether from the narratives in the kuranty or from the expertise of the doctors at the Apothecary Chancery, for example, but this tended to be a by-product of the institutional structure, not a consequence of consistent policy and focussed efforts. More research is needed on the extent to which the Ambassadorial Chancery engaged in the manipulation of information sent abroad, but Maier’s investigation of the reports of the Razin rebellion raises intriguing possibilities.

Mechanisms to enhance the downward flow of information on the vertical axis from state to people (or, if one prefers, the outward flow on the radial axis) began to be developed from the early eighteenth century: through the institution of an official printed bulletin or state newspaper, through the prescribed printing and public posting of laws, through the systematic production of engravings illustrating state occasions and achievements, through the lavish staging of public state celebrations along with printed commentaries on their meanings, and more widely with the expansion of print into the non-ecclesiastical sphere (while maintaining a tight control on ownership). As for lateral information flow, structures of communication that had been established in the service of the state—in particular, the postal system—came to serve also as networks linking and serving a wider population. Autonomous structures of communication from and for non-state actors (aside from traditional informal means) developed quite intensively from the very end of the eighteenth century or the turn of the nineteenth century: newspapers whose principal purposes were not linked to official announcements; commercial signage; commercial and provincial publishing.

None of the studies in the present book strays much beyond the middle of the nineteenth century. This cut-off point, ca.1850, is not justified with reference to any particular event or set of events that mark a conventional division between epochs. Nor, however, is the break entirely arbitrary. In the first place, the main emphasis here is on emergence and establishment rather than on continuation. In the mid-nineteenth century the empire reached pretty much its maximum size, especially with its expansion into Central Asia. The mechanisms of communication that had accompanied, facilitated and been stimulated by its growth were structurally embedded. Secondly, and more pertinently for the theme of the volume, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century new technologies, structures and mechanisms of communication were emerging, with far-reaching implications: infrastructural innovations such as railways, technical transformations of traditional technologies such as steam-driven rotary presses, plus the fundamentally new technology of the telegraph. Taken together, these phenomena can indeed be seen as providing impetus for a fresh phase in the history of information and mechanisms of communication in Russia, material for a somewhat different volume.

1 Among the seminal works (prompting discussion and modification as well as agreement) see, especially, Jack Goody, The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); and The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

2 E.g., in a medieval context, Emily Steiner and Lynn Ransom, eds., Taxonomies of Knowledge: Information and Order in Medieval Manuscripts (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Libraries, 2015).

3 Jacob Soll, The Information Master. Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), p. 12.

4 Edwards Higgs, The Information State in England: The Central Collection of Information on Citizens since 1500 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

5 Steven G. Marks, The Information Nexus: Global Capitalism from the Renaissance to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

6 David Coast, News and Rumour in Jacobean England: Information, Court Politics and Diplomacy 1618–1625 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014).

7 For a succinct overview of a range of approaches to the notion of information see e.g. Toni Weller, Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field (Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2008),pp. 11–22.

8 Here, too, there is scope to make an ostensibly simple contrast complicated: see the discussion of various approaches to information and data in Jennifer Rowley, ‘What is Information?’, Information Services and Use, 18 (1998), 243–54.

9 Weller, ed., Information History in the Modern World. Histories of the Information Age (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011): see the reviews by Colin Higgins in Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 43.4 (2011), 271, and by Anne Welsh in Rare Books Newsletter, 92 (July 2012), 26–27.

10 On approaches to “modernity” in relation to Russia see Simon Dixon, The Modernisation of Russia 1676–1825 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 1–24.

11 See esp. Dominic Lieven, Empire. The Russian Empire and its Rivals (London: John Murray, 2000).

12 See the tables in Peter B. Brown, ‘How Muscovy Governed: Seventeenth-Century Russian Central Administration’, Russian History, 36 (2009), 459–529 (pp. 496–501). For an overview of the chanceries see D. V. Liseitsev, N. M. Rogozhin, Iu. M. Eskin, Prikazy Moskovskogo gosudarstva XVI–XVII vv. Slovar′-spravochnik (Moscow and St Petersburg: IRI RAH; RGADA, Tsentr gumanitarnykh initsiativ, 2015).

13 See e.g. A. A. Sidorov, ‘Rukopisnost′—pechatnost′—knizhnost′’, in Rukopisnaia i pechatnaia kniga, ed. by T. B. Kniazevskaia et al. (Moscow: Nauka, 1975), pp. 227–45 (p. 231). For a range of perspectives on early Muscovite printing see e.g. I. V. Pozdeeva, ‘The Activity of the Moscow Printing House in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century’, Solanus, 6 (1992), 27–55; Edward L. Keenan, ‘Ivan the Terrible and Book Culture: Fact, Fancy, and Fog: Remarks on Early Muscovite Printing’, Solanus, 18 (2004), 28–50; Robert Mathiesen, ‘Cosmology and the Puzzle of Early Printing in Old Cyrillic’, Solanus 18 (2004), 5–27. See also the essays in Canadian-American Slavic Studies 51 (2017), 173–408.

14 See esp. Gary Marker, Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700–1800 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

15 On censorship initiatives in the late eighteenth century see Marker, Publishing, pp. 212–32; on formal censorship before the mid-nineteenth century see G. V. Zhirkov, Istoriia tsenzury v Rossii XIX–XX vv. (Moscow: Aspekt Press, 2001), esp. pp. 7–64.

16 Lauren Jee-Su Kim, French Royal Acts Printed Before 1600: A Bibliographical Study (Ph.D. dissertation, University of St Andrews, 2008), p. 115 ff.

17 The 1649 Ulozhenie and the 1654 Tamozhennaia ustavnaia gramota. On the latter see Simon Franklin, ‘K voprosu o malykh zhanrakh kirillicheskoi pechati’, in 450 let Apostolu Ivana Fedorova. Istoriia rannego knigopechataniia v Rossii (pamiatniki, istochniki, traditsii izucheniia), ed. by D. N. Ramazanova (Moscow: Pashkov dom, 2016), pp. 428–39.

18 For the supposition that in China the arrested development of printing with moveable type (and of other technologies) is attributable to the role of the state, see Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Volume I, The Rise of the Network Society, 2nd ed. (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), pp. 7–10.

19 See e.g. V. N. Avtokratov, ‘K istorii zameny stolbtsovoi formy deloproizvodstva— tetradnoi v nachale XVIII v.’, Problemy istochnikovedeniia, VII (1959), 274–86.


1. Early Mapping: The Tsardom in Manuscript

Valerie Kivelson

© 2017 Valerie Kivelson, CC BY 4.0

In some ways, the maps produced in Russia from the mid-fourteenth to the early eighteenth centuries fit uncomfortably in a volume devoted to the study of information and mechanisms of communication. To a modern viewer, or even to an educated European of the early modern period, the expected cartographic formulae are distinctly lacking, replaced by colourful drawings of little houses, churches, and trees. The maps’ visual vocabulary is more pictorial than graphic, their content more fanciful than informative. Not anchored by unified perspective or scale, often without a fixed point of orientation, they show a topsy-turvy landscape of villages and forests pointing up, down, and sidewise. On first impression, these maps strike the eye as childish and naïve, a far cry from the cool abstractions that we tend to associate with cartography today. The information they contain would seem, therefore, to be minimal. As a mode of communication, early modern Russian maps were even more severely limited. Appropriately called “sketches”(chertezhi) rather than “maps” in Russian, these hand-made drawings were never printed and were not created with any view toward wide dissemination. For example, only onemap of the city of Moscow was printed in Russia prior to 1741, and that was a small map included in the frontispiece to a 1663 Bible. This experiment in publication inspired no imitators.1 Rather than print and circulate maps, Russian authorities understood maps as potentially dangerous and militantly controlled their production and distribution.

Isaac Massa, a Dutch merchant who lived in Moscow in the early seventeenth century, reported that although he was eager to obtain a map of the city, he would never have dared ask for one, “because they would have quickly seized me and delivered me over for torture, thinking that in making such a request I must be contemplating treason. This people is so suspicious in this regard that nobody would have been so bold as to undertake the task”. A Russian friend explained the risk involved in sharing cartographic information, telling Massa: “I would be in danger of my life if anyone knew that I had made a drawing of the town of Moscow, and that I had given it to a foreigner. I would be killed as a traitor”.2 With this story of punitive state censorship, Massa reinforces one of the most persistent ideas about Russia, enduring powerfully until today; that is, rather than encourage the collection and circulation of information, the Russian state preferred to monopolise both of these spheres of activity and to quash communication.

At the same time, however, Massa’s saga exposes the limits to this picture of state censorship: in spite of the obvious risks involved, Massa ultimately succeeded in gathering a good deal of cartographic information from his Russian contacts and his fellow expatriates. He even prevailed on the same fearful Russian friend to draw a map for him, though on condition of utter secrecy. The Dutchman is associated with four splendid maps of Russia: the one of the city of Moscow that his friend entrusted to him; one of the Southern regions of Muscovy reaching down to the Crimea and the Northern coast of the Black Sea; a general map of all of European Russia; and a particularly valuable one of the Northern coast of Russia and Siberia, which retained its value as a reference to this little known region into the eighteenth century.

Figure 1: Willem Janszoon Blaeu, Tabula Russiae (1635). Map and inset of the city of Moscow based on Isaac Massa’s maps.

Figure 2: Isaac Massa, Russiæ, vulgo Moscovia, Pars Australis [The Southern part of Russia, called Muscovy] (1645).

Figure 3: Isaac Massa, Caerte van′t Noorderste Russen, Samojeden, ende Tingoesen Landt: alsoo dat vand Russen afghetekent [Map of the northern-most Russian, Samoyed, and Tungusic land, as copied from the Russians] (1610).

Two of the maps of Russia most frequently reprinted in European atlases of the early modern era bear his name. Novissima Rvssiae Tabula and Rvssia vulgo Moscoviae Pars Avstralis are both clearly attributed to him: “Auctore Isaaco Massa”.3 Richly populated with Russian toponyms, the maps confirm Massa’s acknowledgement of the generous contributions of Russian informants to his sense of the local geography.

Massa was not alone in suggesting that, regardless of the fearful punishments they might incur, Muscovites and foreigners exchanged geographic information at a considerable rate. The Habsburg envoy Sigmund von Herberstein reported a parallel experience during his two visits nearly a century earlier. Unlike Massa, he was unable to convince his friends to provide him with actual maps—none would dare—but with the assistance of knowledgeable Russian and European informants, he accumulated the geographic information that made possible the publication of his map of Muscovy in copper engravings accompanying his Notes upon Russia in Vienna in 1549. In subsequent decades, the work appeared in multiple editions and translations, and adaptations of the map were included in various world atlases.4

Figure 4: Map of Moscovia, Sigismund von Herberstein (1549).

These foreigners’ travails, just two of many tales of cartographic adventure, illuminate the complexities involved in tracking the flows of cartographic information and communication in early modern Russia. Their reports demonstrate that, already by the time of Herberstein’s visits in the early sixteenth century, Muscovites had developed a strong and effective cartographic sensibility and had collected a cache of geographic information sufficient to support the production of maps. Further, foreigners recognised the value of Muscovite geographic knowledge and of the maps themselves. Russia’s pictorial sketches followed different models than the scientific survey mapping beginning to characterise European cartography in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but nonetheless they conveyed valuable spatial information much sought after by both the tsarist state and the foreigners interested in it.5 Far from dismissing the funny little drawings, foreigners scrambled to get their hands on them, with some success. Although maps were a controlled substance and publication remained out of the question, this information circulated widely and built cumulatively on the pooled knowledge of diverse contributors.

This chapter draws on my previous work on Muscovite maps but with a quite different analytical focus.6 Where my earlier cartographic research primarily explores Muscovite political and religious culture, this chapter pursues the themes of this volume: information and communication. In this context, the following pages investigate the kinds of information conveyed in Muscovite maps, the ways the maps communicated meaning, the interplay of Muscovite and foreign cartographers and informants, and the ways these precious documents circulated in the politically charged climate of the seventeenth century, when publication was not an option.

Muscovite Sketch Maps and How to Read Them

Maps as physical artefacts, schematic representations of the world in two dimensions, are not inevitable or natural correlates of a geographic sensibility or awareness of one’s place in the world relative to other locations. Maps remained exceptional in most parts of Europe, for instance, until the fifteenth century, when they began to catch on, although the Chinese already could boast an established mapping tradition perhaps as early as the second century BCE. In Russia, researchers have discovered a single rough sketch of the layout of the compound of the Kirill-Belozerskii Monastery from the 1360s and rare mentions of maps surface in texts from the fifteenth century,7 but they do not appear to have been made with any regularity until the late sixteenth century, and they do not survive in significant numbers until the seventeenth century. When they show up, they fall into two general categories: sketches of very local terrain, drawn up to establish property lines or chart the state of military defences; and depictions of great swaths of the tsardom drafted for diplomatic, military, and strategic use. Since the local maps appeared earlier, we will begin with those and then move to the more comprehensive maps of the realm.8

One of the very earliest surviving maps illustrates the nature of the local property maps. A few lines scratched in ink on paper documents a sale of land transacted in 1533.

Figure 5: Drawing of the Lands of the River Solonitsa.

A double line indicates a road transecting a semi-circular arable field that abuts a river. Text on the obverse side describes the purchase of the field in question by the Trinity St Sergius Monastery. Unimpressive in its degree of cartographic expertise, the sketch nonetheless conveys all the information relevant to the exchange. The drawing situates the field in question along the appropriate river (the Solonitsa) and relative to the road; it notes the positioning of fields and meadows; and it records the value of the land with a terse reference to “a crop of 100 haystacks”.9 Efficient and unpretentious, the sketch demonstrates a command of relative positioning and cartographic vision fully adequate to the needs of the moment.

Written sources record little about the early development of visual mapping, but the few early surviving mentions in official documents suggest that officials of the grand prince initiated the gradual incorporation of maps as an administrative and juridical tool and as a supplement to their abundant textual records. Fleeting references in administrative records demonstrate that the initiative came from above in pursuit of entirely practical ends. For instance, orders were sent from Moscow to provincial officials in 1534 and 1535 instructing them to study the conflicting claims of rival litigants and to send maps of the properties in question back to the authorities in the Kremlin. In the 1534 case, an order issued in the name of the grand prince (the four-year-old Ivan IV) required a local official in Beloozero Province to examine the lay of the land in connection with a suit between the same Kirillov Monastery, mentioned earlier, and two peasant brothers. He was to “sketch a map of the disputed land, and having written up his judgment and the results of his investigation truthfully and having sketched the map, report to me, the grand prince, and bring before me both of the litigants for a face-to-face [literally, eye-to-eye] confrontation”.10 Although the officials’ handiwork does not survive, they presumably produced sketch maps similar to the surviving 1533 map, the precursor of the more elaborate and numerous property litigation maps of the seventeenth century.

In the seventeenth century, and particularly the final third of that century, the production and use of maps proliferated, along with a generalised expansion of administrative record-keeping and increasingly dense webs of interaction between state officials and society. As the tsars extended their military lines to the South and East, the Chancery of Military Affairs ordered maps prepared to identify the most effective placement of fortresses. Maps were used for the extensive projects of town planning undertaken in the seventeenth century by the Muscovite state.11 Sketch maps became fairly standard elements in the lawsuits over real estate that filled the tsars’ courts. Sometimes the litigants would take the initiative and produce their own rival maps in support of their opposing claims, leaving the officers of the court to sort out the contradictions. More commonly, the courts would commission a city clerk or retired soldier, any passably literate man of good reputation, to go out to the land in question and make a map.

The men entrusted with the job were not formally trained in cartography, and the fruits of their labour display a variety of approaches, but they all share a pictorial vision rather than a geometric one, and a sense of orientation rooted in the embodied presence of a human passing through the landscape rather than an abstract, homogeneous, planimetric or “god’s eye” view from above. A few examples will give a sense of this embedded vision and picture-book aesthetic. A vivid map from Aleksin Province, in the far South, dated 1671, situates the viewer in space by sketching out a rough framework of rivers (in green) and roads (in brick red).

Figure 6: Map of Aleksin (1671).

Two little villages are indicated by tiny houses. One village is surrounded by a walled enclosure; a colourfully striped church distinguishes the other. Uninhabited arable fields (pustoshi) are drawn in as rounded blobs distributed unevenly along the rivers and roads, and each landmark is labelled with clarifying text. The bulk of the artist’s work, however, was devoted to filling the page with a forest of fantastic trees, painted in riotous colours.12 The trees point this way and that, most angling woozily to one side, but others radiating out from roads and rivers, following along a navigable itinerary and reflecting the vantage point of a human traveller. It places human incursions as insignificant traces within an exuberantly wooded landscape.

This lavishly decorated cartographic painting was made by or on the order of Lazar Lavrov, Governor of Iaroslav-Maloi, for the practical purpose of determining ownership of some uninhabited fields claimed by two local landholders, and yet its visual composition seems engaged with an altogether different, perhaps more fantastical or metaphysical plane. It is hard to recognise in this work of art a pragmatic piece of legal-bureaucratic documentation. Nonetheless, it is a map, and a fully serviceable one at that. Through the distracting exuberance of irrelevant and eye-catching embellishment, the mapmaker conveyed enough information about relative locations to allow the courts to decide who should rightfully control which plot of land.

Like all the sketch maps, this one lacks geographic precision and the structuring geometry that European maps of the same era would likely contain: latitude or longitude markers, grid layouts, wind roses (although it should be noted that through the sixteenth century, European map makers still oriented their maps in a variety of directions, not only with the North at the top).

Among historians of cartography, the question of orientation of Muscovite maps is disputed, with each scholar asserting his or her position with great certainty. Leo Bagrow declared authoritatively that seventeenth century Russian maps were “always” oriented to the South; V. S. Kusov noted significant variation, with the majority oriented to the East, followed by a significant minority oriented to the South, and only a few oriented to the North. S. I. Sotnikova also allowed for a degree of arbitrariness in orientation, although from a small sample she identified a preference for a Northern orientation, with a minority oriented to the South.13 As this cacophony indicates, no consensus has been achieved. That fine scholars could reach such disparate conclusions suggests that perhaps they are asking the wrong question. As medieval historian Carol Symes points out, documents can coach us in how they want to be read. Sometimes, she says, they scream out their instructions. The maps themselves tell us that they care very little about orientation. In this case, the sketch maps urge us to set aside our presumption that documents necessarily have a clear up and down, a right and wrong way of viewing them.14 They invite us instead to delight in their pictured landscape in any direction we choose, and in multiple directions at once.

This invitation is underscored by the fact that cardinal directions usually (though not always) go unmarked in the maps. More frequently, Muscovite chertezhi took their structure from the landscape itself and from the human itineraries that passed through it, orienting more to the courses of major rivers or paths of important roads than to abstract compass points. This is not to suggest that Muscovites had no understanding of the cardinal directions, quite the contrary, but rather to note that they chose not to indicate them in any way on their maps. The makers and viewers would have had no difficulty knowing which way was North.15 Still, many of the maps would have presented them with the same conundrum we face in trying to resolve how they were meant to hold the map, in other words, which way was up.

The polyphonic impulses of the mapmakers come through when one attends to the visual evidence of the maps themselves, with their jumble of orientations of images and textual annotations. The point of view of the traveller along the road is signalled by the trees bristling outward; the horizontal span of the paper accommodates the flow of a river; the layout of a village around a nodal focus such as a church or a path determines the splayed depiction of houses with their roofs pointing out from the centre. Mixed perspective presents architectural complexes from multiple viewpoints simultaneously, suggesting the movement of the human viewer around the walls of a building or compound.16 The visual impact of mixed perspective is augmented in large maps, where the artists or scribes faced the purely logistical problem of the limited reach of the human arm. Oversized maps composed of multiple sheets glued together required the mapmaker to circle around and work from different sides of the paper.

It is true that sometimes the artefacts themselves provide clues to their intended orientation. Occasionally, maps make some effort to indicate direction themselves by the placement of the rising or setting sun, as in a lively map of Borovsk, where a summer sunrise to the right and a summer sunset to the left indicate a Northern orientation.17 Some sketch maps, particularly the small ones contained on a single piece of paper, declare an unambiguous directionality by showing all the trees pointing in a single direction consistent with all the text. Others show a preponderant orientation, with most of the trees and text pointing in a single direction. Signatures collected from local witnesses, or from the mapmaker himself, may appear on the back of a map to add to its veracity and documentary power, and Leonid Chekin stresses that they march along the back of the page in horizontal lines, obeying a disciplined sense of up and down.18

Figure 7: Signatures on obverse of a map of lands along the Kamenka and the Urshma rivers in Suzdal Province. The signatures are aligned horizontally across the page, indicating a clear orientation for viewing. The document dates to 1688 or 1689.19

This is sometimes the case (in other cases signatures run every which way), but did that regulated linearity on the back determine how Muscovites read the looser structures of the pictorial front?

These highly localised sketch maps were not concerned with situating their position in a broader world, relative to an abstract pole, an international border, or a metropolitan centre; that was not their purpose. They were created to illustrate the location of a great double-headed pine with a state agent’s official boundary mark or blaze, a dark X, burned into it, or the place where a church used to stand or a graveyard lay in ruins, in order to clarify particular property lines.20

Figure 8: Map of the lands along the river Lakhost near the village of Tolstikova in Suzdal Province. The sketch documents the mapmaker’s concern with the details of the local landscape and the official markers that register property lines. It demonstrates little concern with orientation or with situating the local in a broader world.21

The particularity of their focus is evident in the plethora of minuscule details that they record. On a map from Iurev Polskoi from 1672, a textual label above the two dark circles just right of centre notes: “In the uninhabited arable field Tiapkova are two pits, and raspberries and nettles are growing in them, and around them is the ploughed land of the uninhabited arable field Tiapkova”.22

Figure 9: Map of the land along the river Sem Kolodezei in Iurev Polskoi Province, 1670-72. “The ploughed land of the uninhabited arable field Tiapkova”. Like the previous map, this one focuses exclusively on local landmarks.23