44 Lenin Avenue

A researcher's journey to Siberia

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?”

While I cannot answer this question completely at the moment, the issue of empire certainly plays a role. The Orthodox church in the region was responsible, for example, for the key Altai Mission. The building at 44 Lenin Avenue (then “post-office street”) was of typical Russian imperial design, and the architect himself was trained in St. Petersburg at the Imperial Academy of Art. Importantly, too, many people within Tomsk thought of Tomsk as a colony of sorts, not Russia proper. After the death of Ignatii, for example, the first article in Tomskie eparkhial’nye vedomosti (Tomsk Diocesan Gazette) to discuss the murder had this to say of Ignatii (from: S. Dmitrevskii, “SLOVO nad grobom zlodeiski umershchvlennogo svoimi uchenikami Ieromonakha Ignatiia,” Tomskie eparkhial’nye vedomosti no. 11, 1 June 1909, 473-479, quotation page 474. Emphasis added):

 The monk Ignatii, who died prematurely, served in our city for only four years, but during this time strong bonds of spiritual unity tied him to the Tomsk flock. The dead profit came to Tomsk from Russia as a stranger to us, but departs to the heavenly fatherland as a close relative.

Tomsk, thus, is separate from Russia in the local imagination.


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