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Durham University

Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Relations in Russia

Panel I: Writing

Octavie Bellavance (Yale University)

The Pre-Revolutionary Russian Newspaper as an Interprofessional Institution

This paper argues that the Russian newspaper between 1861 and 1907 functioned as a zone of both multiprofessional and multidisciplinary encounters. The newspaper was firstly multiprofessional, as it relied on contributions from non-professional journalists. Despite the rise of the ‘career reporter’ from the 1870s onward, most of the editorial content of Russian newspapers was produced by part-time writers, whose journalistic activities complemented their work as physicians, lawyers, academics or even civil servants. The historiography on late Imperial Russia has attempted to cast journalism as one of the professions, whilst acknowledging the high incidence of casual contributors from other professional groups. This paper is the first study of professionals’ contributions to the daily press in this period. The paper also examines the daily press as a forum for multidisciplinary encounters. It argues that newspapers enabled professionals to share their expertise not only with the broader public, but also with members of other professions, especially in response to public health crises or broader socio-economic issues. Contrarily to specialised publications, the general press used non-technical language and reached members of all professions, thus fostering collaboration between professional corps. Finally, the newspaper underpinned interprofessional and interdisciplinary work in pre-revolutionary Russia by connecting all other institutions in which professionals operated: institutions of higher education, scientific and professional societies, urban and rural local self-government, and civil society organisations.


Sergey Tyulenev (Durham University)

Translating and Original Writing: Some Reasons for Cross-Professional Involvements

This paper will focus on the cross-professionalism of original writing (writers and poets) and translation (translators) in early Soviet Russia. In that period these two activities had become more or less clearly defined professions: there were those who earned their living by original writing and those who translated. The Union of Writers and the Union of Translators of the USSR were separate organisations. Publishing houses distinguished between translators and writers. Yet in certain publishing projects, such as translations or re-translations of world literary classics in the publishing houses Academia and in Maxim Gorky’s project ‘Vsemirnaia literatura’ (World Literature), writers were recruited in the capacity of translators. Writers were also involved in translating folklore or literary works of the former Soviet republics and minor Soviet nations. There were several reasons for this cross-professionalism: on the one hand, the projects gained prestige thanks to first-calibre writers participating in them; on the other hand, especially for ideological reasons, for the writers that was the only opportunity left to publish and sometimes make a living. The writer-translator cross-professionalism played out in the other direction as well. Some translators passed off their own creations as translations. In this context the paper will look into the case of Vladimir Lifshits who published pseudo-translations of a British poet James Clifford, whom he himself had invented.


Henrietta Mondry (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)

Cosmists-Immortalists, Experiments on Dogs, and Bolshevik Science and Fiction

In the Russian cultural landscape of the 1920s, matters of life, death and immortality formed a distinctive zone of multiprofessional and multidisciplinary intersections and interactions. Biomedical science was actively patronised by the new Soviet state, while laboratory scientists were conducting experiments that were at the same time the subject of pre-Revolutionary philosophical discourse, thus showing the cultural continuity. Laboratory experiments also created two-way traffic with works of literary fiction. In the 1920s, the interests of some writers openly corresponded to the subject of scientific experiments on rejuvenation, sex change and the reanimation of animals and humans. The manifesto of a group of writers known as the Cosmists-Immortalists proclaimed the conquest of death by science to be a human rights issue. While experiments on animals for the advancement of human medicine were considered unproblematic by this group of atheistic representatives of the profession of creative writers and artists, experimental science was treated with suspicion by some of their religious counterparts. Yet, so strong was the desire to conquer death and achieve immortality that this area created a domain of intersections of opposing philosophical and ontological worldviews. This paper will explore this domain of overlapping, competing and conflicting ideologies and opinions, and show that the sheer magnitude of the task created a zone of fuzzy borders, rendered such by the masquerading techniques and concealment tactics used by various participants. The surgical experiments on dogs in the literature of the 1920s – Bulgakov’s ‘Heart of a Dog’ and Aleksei Tolstoi’s Youth Factory – will be reread as examples of such deliberately confusing tactics. The paper will argue that it is misleading to read this fiction as a polemic with Bolshevik science. This kind of writing should be seen as the grey zone of intersections between scientific utopianism, religious and atheistic cosmism, and biomedical laboratory experiments, based on the work of such diverse players as the philosophers Nikolai Fedorov and Vasily Rozanov and the physiologists Ivan Pavlov and Sergei Briukhonenko.


Tatiana Sokolova (Higher School of Economics & Institute of Philosophy, RAS)

Scientist as Fiction Writer: Soviet Science-Fiction and Space Exploration

The success of the Soviet space programme (Satellite-1, the first man in space, and the first man in open space) are often considered to be the consequence of the arms race during the Cold War. This paper will aim to show that, at the ideological level, these successes were based on the synthesis of two seemingly contradictory philosophies: on the one hand, the philosophy of Russian Cosmism (especially in the version propounded by K. Tsiolkovsky), with the idea of man’s responsibility before all rational beings in the universe; and, on the other, the Marxist thesis about the elimination of the gap between manual and intellectual labour. Such a synthesis was possible thanks to the general orientation of both Marxism and Cosmism to build a new society organised on scientific grounds. Such a society demanded a new type of man, who did not only have advanced technical skills and scientific knowledge, but also had particular moral qualities, such as strong faith in humanity, readiness for self-sacrifice, and the courage to explore outer space. These qualities, as well as highly sophisticated (yet nonetheless fantastical) technologies, were brought together in the science-fiction literature written by Russian scientists (including K. Tsiolkovsky, A. Beliaev, I. Efremov and many others), who in such works did not confine themselves to the simple popularisation of the hard sciences. Inspired by Tsiolkovsky’s ideas, Soviet engineers and scientists (F. Zander, Y. Kondratiuk, S. Korolev and others) opened the new era of USSR’s space exploration. Thus, the paper will examine the interaction between philosophical ideas and technical achievements based on an analysis of Soviet science fiction literature from 1920s to 1957 (the year of the launch of Satellite-1), as well as of its critics from the scientific community.