44 Lenin Avenue

A researcher's journey to Siberia

Research progress

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Gulag,Knowledge mobilization — Wilson Bell at 5:56 pm on Wednesday, July 4, 2018  Tagged , , ,

It has been awhile since I’ve posted, here. Just a quick update, and perhaps I’ll make some of these items into larger posts:

  • My first publication based on the 44 Lenin Avenue project came out in January: Wilson T. Bell, “Tomsk regional identity and the legacy of the Gulag and Stalinist repression,” in Edith Clowes, Gisela Erbsloh, and Ani Kokobobo, eds., Russia’s Regional Identities: The Power of the Provinces. Routledge Contemporary Russia and Eastern Europe. London: Routledge, 2018. I’m particularly excited about this publication because it combines my new research (“44 Lenin Avenue”) with my older research on the Gulag in Western Siberia, and it is also my first publication dealing with contemporary Russia.


  • Speaking of my older research, my book, Stalin’s Gulag at War: Forced Labour, Mass Death, and Soviet Victory in the Second World War, is scheduled to come out this fall with the University of Toronto Press. All that is left is basically the indexing and the double/triple-checking of the proofs. If you pre-order the book, you can receive a large discount: the paperback version is only $19.95 at the moment! UTP has been a pleasure to work with, so far. I already have one speaking engagement lined up to discuss my book: a talk at Wilfred Laurier University’s Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies on Jan. 9, 2019. Details to follow, but you can also check their website for updates.


On collaborative projects

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Methodology,NKVD — Wilson Bell at 6:24 pm on Tuesday, November 14, 2017  Tagged , ,

While not directly related to the “44 Lenin Avenue Project,” I thought I’d highlight a recent collaborative publication in which I participated with Alan Barenberg, Sean Kinnear, Steve Maddox, and Lynne Viola. At the May 2017 meeting of the Canadian Association of Slavists (Ryerson University, Toronto), we participated in a roundtable discussion on new directions in Gulag studies. Heather Coleman, editor of Canadian Slavonic Papers, attended the discussion, and encouraged us to re-create the discussion in written form. We did so in early September 2017 on a Google Doc, with Alan Barenberg facilitating the discussion. Thank you to everyone involved!

I found the group-writing process quite rewarding. We responded individually to the questions, but directly on to the same document,  making the final result a truly collaborative effort. It has a lot of rich discussion of the current state of Gulag historiography and suggestions for classroom use of certain publications. These types of academic discussions often only appear at conferences if at all, and it is great to see it in print (soon), and available on-line, now. “New Directions in Gulag Studies: A Roundtable Discussion” is available on-line, here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00085006.2017.1384665

I even manage to mention the “44 Lenin Avenue” project a couple of times, briefly, in the discussion. If you have any interest in the Gulag, it’s worth the read!

Tomsk as Imperial Project

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Ignatii Dvernitskii — Wilson Bell at 7:59 pm on Friday, November 3, 2017  Tagged , , ,

I’ve been thinking a bit about Tomsk as a project of empire. These thoughts arose partly out of my early modern European survey course at TRU, during which I recently lectured about Russia’s eastward expansion. Tomsk was founded in 1604 as one of a series of fur-trading outposts along Siberia’s vast river routes, and thus in timing and motivation wasn’t that different from much of the European expansion into North America (my hometown of Annapolis Royal, NS, for example, was founded in 1605 as Port Royal, a French fur-trading outpost).

Outpost of Tiumen. Wikimedia commons. Public domain.

My thoughts about Tomsk and empire also relate to my upcoming presentation at the 2017 ASEEES (Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies) Annual Convention in Chicago, Nov. 9-12, 2017. The title of my presentation, “A Murder Most Siberian: ‘Crime and Punishment’ in 1909 Tomsk,” is a nod to Louise McReynolds’ excellent book, Murder Most Russian: True Crime and Punishment in Late Imperial Russia (Cornell U.P., 2012), which notes, among other arguments and information, that Dostoevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment, influenced the criminal justice system in numerous ways. The 1909 murder of Ignatii Dvernitskii, supposedly motivated in part by Dostoevsky’s writings, seemed to fit into McReynolds’ framework (“a desire to put Dostoevsky to the test,” one of the perpetrators allegedly said. See: unknown author, “Ieromonakh’’ Ignatii i ego sistema,” Sibirskie voprosy vol. 5, no. 20 (30 May 1909): 24-37, quotation 36-37).

Still, as I was writing the paper and thinking about the title, I thought, “What is specifically Siberian, as opposed to Russian, about this murder?”; “Does it tell a story that is unique to, or reflective of, specific issues that Siberia and/or Tomsk faced?”; “Is this murder, in other words, most Siberian?”

(Read on …)

Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions

Filed under: Monument square,Stalinist repression — Wilson Bell at 4:45 pm on Monday, October 30, 2017  Tagged , , , , , ,

Just a quick note: In Russia, October 30 is officially the “Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions.” As the museum at 44 Lenin Avenue is run by the Tomsk chapter of the Memorial Society, dedicated to preserving the memory of the victims of Soviet-era repression, it’s a key day for the museum staff and for the building itself. In the square outside of the building, people gathered and read 1500 names of those repressed under Stalin. Vasilii Khanevich, director of the museum, referred to Tomsk as a key site of Stalinist repression, because the region was such a major centre for exile, and Tomsk itself was the “gateway to Narym.” There are some nice photographs of the event at the link, above.

This particular October 30 is special, too, because it is the official opening of a national monument to the victims of repression, in a prominent Moscow location. Vladimir Putin himself officially opened the monument, stating, as reported by Radio Free Europe, “This horrific past must not be stricken from the national memory”. While some have argued that Russia under Putin has ignored the violent side of Stalinism, including the Gulag, my own sense is that it is much more complicated, a complexity certainly highlighted by this monument and the relatively recently opened Gulag Museum.

Katorga Questions

Filed under: Ignatii Dvernitskii — Wilson Bell at 8:25 pm on Friday, August 25, 2017  Tagged , , , ,

Of the questions related to the murder of Ignatii Dvernitskii, many remain unanswered. For example, what was the fate of the two perpetrators, Gerasim Iurinov and Georgii Kuimov? The temporary military tribunal sentenced them to death, commuted to katorga. Katorga was the harshest form of punishment in tsarist Russia, after the death penalty. It generally involved exile and hard labour. Eastern Siberia, particularly the areas in the relative vicinity of Irkutsk, was the main area for katorga punishment in the late-Imperial period. The picture, below, is of katorga prisoners who worked near the Amur River in the Far East, sometime between 1908-1913, and is in the public domain from wikimedia commons.
Russian prisoners of Amur Railway
(Read on …)

Records destroyed?

Filed under: Ignatii Dvernitskii,Methodology — Wilson Bell at 9:04 pm on Wednesday, July 26, 2017  Tagged , , ,

As should be clear from my posts, one of the key events I’m studying for this project is the murder of the headmaster and monk Ignatii Dvernitskii by two of his pupils in 1909. The case was quickly transferred from the regular courts to a temporary military tribunal, sent from Omsk (The military district court in Omsk covered the military tribunals for all of western Siberia). It was not uncommon, at the time, for especially sensitive cases to be tried by military tribunals, as these courts avoided juries and had less scrutiny. I would love to find the court transcripts of the tribunal for this particular case (took place in October 1909), as such a transcript would be of obvious help in telling the story.

In any case, when I was in Tomsk last summer, I discovered (not surprisingly), that the State Archive of Tomsk Oblast’ did not have the records of the temporary military tribunals. Since then, I’ve been asking around, using connections through friends and colleagues to figure out where these records might be. Could they be in Omsk? Moscow? St. Petersburg? After some back and forth with a colleague at Central European University (CEU) who has many connections with Russian scholars of the pre-revolutionary period, one of these scholars, from Omsk, sent him the following piece of information: “…события гражданской войны привели к массовому уничтожению документов – были разгромлены архивы Акмолинского областного правления, омского военно-окружного суда… уничтожены часть жандармских, полицейских и тюремных архивов” [rough translation: “… the events of the Civil War led to mass destruction of documents: the archives of the Akmolinsk Oblast government [and] the Omsk military district court were destroyed… [also] destroyed were parts of the gendarmerie, police, and prison archives”]. I’m waiting for more information about the source of this information, but the destruction of the Omsk military district court archive likely means that any transcripts or records from the Ignatii Dvernitskii case no longer exist.

Burning of the Akmolinsk District Court

The same CEU colleague sent a photograph from EtoRetro.ru (included in this post) showing the burning of the district court in Akmolinsk. The dates given in the photo are Feb 27-28, but no year is included.

In any case, I’ll keep up the search, but it looks unlikely that I’ll be able to find the court records. Who said hindsight is 20/20?

The Church-Teachers’ School

Filed under: Education in the Russian Empire,Ignatii Dvernitskii,Orthodox Church — Wilson Bell at 10:51 pm on Thursday, July 6, 2017  Tagged , ,

While at the CAS conference at the end of May, Heather Coleman, expert on the late-Imperial Orthodox Church, pushed me to look more carefully at the role of the Orthodox Church in education in Siberia specifically, since the zemstva (elected local governments that had been established during the Great Reforms), in charge of much of the schooling in European Russia, did not exist in Siberia. Thus, education in Siberia was the responsibility of the church, and those who went to parish schools or who attended the church-teachers’ schools, may not themselves have been religious at all. This lack of religiosity, of course, would have made Ignatii Dvernitskii’s extreme reforms at the school in 1908-09 even more likely to be rejected by many of the pupils, as they may not have been strong believers.

Coleman in passing, however, also stated that she was unfamiliar with the church-teachers’ schools. Indeed, preliminary digging around has given me little background information. A Google search for “церковно учительская школа” is not particularly helpful, as many of the results deal with the church parish schools or the seminaries. The few direct hits, however, show that these schools were not confined only to Siberia. For examples, here’s a link to a brief discussion of one that was founded in Kazan in 1904, and another to a series of photographs from 1909 of a large church-teachers’ school for young women in the heart of the empire, St. Petersburg. The second link, in particular, reveals my ignorance of the subject, as I did not realize that some church parish schools employed women as teachers. JSTOR is unfortunately unhelpful, at least with the search terms I’ve used, as is Project Muse,

Facade of the Women’s Church-Teachers’ School in St. Petersburg, 1909. From: http://humus.livejournal.com/4369090.html

suggesting that English-language scholarship on these types of schools is quite rare. In any case, time to investigate, and if anyone reading this had helpful suggestions, please comment or get in touch!

I’ve included one photograph of the St. Petersburg school (Свято-Владимирская женская церковно-учительская школа (Забалканский пр., 96)), as they do not appear to be copy-protected. Quite impressive!

44 Lenin Avenue in a 1917 Photo!

Filed under: Russian Revolution — Wilson Bell at 9:01 pm on Friday, June 23, 2017  Tagged , ,

On June 17, Юрий Черданцев‎ (Iurii Cherdantsev), a former professor at Tomsk Polytechnic University, posted two photos to the public Facebook group, СТАРЫЙ ТОМСК: улочки, дома, судьбы томичей (OLD TOMSK: streets, buildings, lives of Tomsk residents). One was a photo from 17 June 1917, 100 years ago. It depicts a demonstration (one of many during that tumultuous year), organized by the Provisional Government. Our building (on what was then Post Office Street) is visible on the right-hand side of the photograph. The second photo shows roughly the same view in June 2017. I’ve copied and included them, here:

CAS Conference, May 27-29

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Ignatii Dvernitskii,Methodology — Wilson Bell at 7:46 pm on Tuesday, May 9, 2017  Tagged , , , ,

I’m excited to be presenting, “The 1909 Murder of Ignatii Dvernitskii: A microhistorical approach,” as part of a panel on microhistory approaches to Russian and Soviet history at the annual convention of the Canadian Association of Slavists, part of the larger Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences that will take place at Ryerson University later this month. This paper will expand on the paper I presented at the Dostoevsky conference in the Fall, and follow a few of the threads that, I think, show the significance of the murder for understanding late-Tsarist Siberia: education, the press, conservatism, anti-Semitism, Dostoevsky, and student activism.

There are a few aspects of the panel that are particularly exciting for me. Nigel Raab is chairing the panel, and aside from his work on Russia, he is also the author of the recent, Who Is the Historian?, an excellent book on historical methods that I assigned in HIST 3000, “The Historian’s Craft,” here at TRU in Fall 2016. One aspect of the book I particularly like is its emphasis on the research and writing of history as a collaborative process. On that note, I want to give a shout-out to my excellent research assistants (three in 2016-2017, and four in 2015-2016) who have helped me with the 44 Lenina project so far (I won’t mention their names without explicit permission, so perhaps in another post). Their work has been invaluable, particularly related to issues of memory and memorials, the murder of Dvernitskii, and the topics of religion and punishment in the late Tsarist era. One of these assistants even accompanied me for part of my research trip to Tomsk, last summer. While on the collaborative methodology note, it’s also worth emphasizing that none of this would be possible without the work of the archivists, librarians, and museum staff of the Tomsk research venues, as well as the inter-library loan librarians here at TRU. Funding for the entire project has come directly from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), a research grant I would not have won without the help of TRU’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies. And, of course, I’ve received tremendous support from friends, colleagues, and, most importantly, my family. I’m certainly far from alone on this project! Thank you, everyone!

I’m also excited to be presenting with two amazing panelists. Alison Smith is the author of two great books on Imperial Russia, and was the “internal external” reader on my doctoral thesis at the University of Toronto. My approach to the murder of Ignatii is partially inspired by her incredible blog posts on “Russian History Blog,” including the very engaging series on the death of the cheese master. To me, her posts demonstrate the value of microhistorical approaches to Russia’s history. The other panelist, Alan Barenberg, is a long-time friend and fellow Gulag specialist (author of the excellent, Gulag Town, Company Town), whose work and support over the years have meant a tremendous amount to me, and who has definitely made my own work stronger.

On that last note, I’m also very pleased to be part of a roundtable discussion at the CAS titled, “New Directions in Gulag Studies,” chaired by Lynne Viola (my mentor and dissertation advisor), and also including comments from Alan Barenberg, Steve Maddox, and Sean Kinnear. It should be a great conference!

A chapel where a cathedral once stood?

Filed under: Architecture — Wilson Bell at 8:50 pm on Friday, April 7, 2017  Tagged ,

One fun aspect of the 44 Lenina project is that this central part of Tomsk continues to undergo revision, a revision intimately associated with the region’s history. Just a stone’s throw from the building is the main, central square in Tomsk, now a large park with fountains, trees, and several plaques and monuments. This spot had once housed Siberia’s largest cathedral, the Trinity Cathedral, modeled on the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Interestingly, although Khabarov (who designed 44 Lenina) was not the cathedral’s main architect, he became the project manager for the cathedral in the 1880s. It took decades to build, and was finally consecrated in 1900. Like the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Trinity Cathedral was demolished during the early Stalin era.

Trinity Cathedral c. 1898. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Now, the city of Tomsk is considering plans to re-design the square (currently, as in pre-revolutionary times, called “New Cathedral Square”), and there is a movement, as part of this redesign, to have a small chapel built on the site where the cathedral once stood. I’ve linked to a Russian-language report on the issue (“A Chapel on New Cathedral? For and Against“) via Tomsk’s TV2. You can see some photos, at that link, of the designs for the chapel.


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