Exhibiting the revolution: the museums of the Winter Palace in Petrograd and Leningrad, 1917-41

Hale, Ryan (2020) Exhibiting the revolution: the museums of the Winter Palace in Petrograd and Leningrad, 1917-41. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

The subject of this thesis is the overlooked history of the museum as part of the remodelling of cultural presentation in Petrograd and Leningrad in the years following the October Revolution in 1917. Exhibiting the revolution: the museums of the Winter Palace in Soviet Petrograd and Leningrad (1917-41) traces the differing paths faced by the renowned Hermitage, a museum characterized by an air of refined cultural elitism, bourgeois academic practice and tsarist patronage, and the Museum of the Revolution, established in the Winter Palace to attend to the void in the public understanding of revolutionary history. The thesis examines the experiences of both museums through examining their functions in the context of the effort to mythologize revolutionary struggle and the birth of the Soviet state. Whilst the Hermitage offers an obvious arena to better comprehend the societal and cultural schism taking place throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Museum of the Revolution analyses an ‘imposter’ museum, tasked with providing proud enlightenment to aid a greater sense of historical consciousness in spite of its decadent surroundings. Both museums are analysed to illuminate their struggle for institutional autonomy, their efforts to expand towards a growing museum audience and of course, with a desire to give some flavour of what those who worked in the Winter Palace experienced during the challenges of Civil War, bureaucratic centralisation and societal purges which greatly affected museum staff. Furthermore, this thesis serves to correct the dearth of studies on cultural institutions and museums in the early Soviet period, despite their often atypical, noteworthy place in a period of extraordinary flux.

Exhibiting the revolution utilises museum archival holdings neglected by researchers outside Russia. In the case of the Museum of the Revolution, many of the archive resources have not been used by western historians until now, whilst the Hermitage’s own archives have provided material previously overlooked. Additionally, the thesis draws heavily on the memories, correspondence and diaries of staff that worked in the museums of the Winter Palace. These sources are used to investigate how the Hermitage and Museum of the Revolution adapted to the rapid pace of change which forced them to react to significant cultural heritage developments between 1917 and 1941. This thesis examines how they responded to the liquidation of private collections and estates, swelling museum holdings, before museums were utilised for selling valuables abroad to fund economic demands. It further traces the struggle of each museum to retain autonomy against the changing demands of centralisation, the increasing importance of Moscow over Russia’s northern capital and the demand for orthodox display and practice under Stalinism. Finally, the thesis attempts to ascertain how far the museum contributed to a shift in cultural presentation. These museums now aimed to educate all and change perspectives n the tsarist past: how far were they able to reach visitors and become a central pivot in enlightening the Soviet people?

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2022 10:35
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2022 10:41
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/84789
DOI:

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