Mapping the Soviet: Cartography, Culture and Power from Lenin to Stalin, 1917-53

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: History

Abstract

The Soviet regime attributed huge importance to geographical space as a factor which could make or break the post-revolutionary state and accordingly to the construction and control of spatial knowledge and representation. Maps played a crucial role in affirming and propagating the communist worldview: 'the map is almost as close to becoming the centre of the new Russian iconic cult as Lenin's portrait', noted a foreign visitor to Moscow in 1926. Equally, the regime recognized the importance of accurate surveys and maps for state-building, strategic planning and economic development. Soviet cartography bifurcated in two directions: one concerned with spatial 'myth-making', the other with constructing a 'scientific' account of space.

Despite their 'iconic' status, Soviet maps have not yet attracted significant attention in historical research. This project offers the first integrated analysis of the political, social, economic, cultural and aesthetic dimensions of Soviet cartography. As well as strengthening scholarly understanding of Soviet history, it will contribute to a better appreciation of the role of map-making - understood as both a scientific-technical and socio-cultural practice - and of maps in the modern world. Its main academic output will be a monograph. I also aim to use my research to enhance wider public understanding of 20th century cartography and of what we can learn from maps about the science-culture nexus that moulds our modern reality. To this end, I shall seek to build on earlier collaborations with the British Library to organise an exhibition drawing on their vast map collections, accompanied by an events programme and resources to promote public engagement and to support delivery of relevant parts of the school curriculum.

The monograph will have two parts. The first focuses on Soviet cartographic policy-making, planning and production. It examines, in particular, the contradictions and conflicts which the bifurcation between 'culture' and 'science' (or between 'ideology' and 'technology') produced within Soviet mapping agencies and among the surveyors and topographers, geodesists and geographers, artists and administrators, scholars, soldiers and secret policemen who shaped the development of post-revolutionary map-making.

Part two places Soviet cartography in its cultural context. It explores the crucial role of Soviet mapping in the re-imagining of the world and re-creation of self and society that were at the heart of revolutionary aspirations. I argue that the Soviet regime used 'map culture' to create and inculcate a new vision of space that encompassed not only reconfigured political territories but a regenerated nature, including human nature, brought into harmony with society. Map-making itself, as a process combining science, technology and art, became both metaphor and model for the synthesis of rational method and aesthetic impulse that characterised revolutionary modernism and global modernity more generally; and the ability to read maps became a symbol of culturedness - even while all but the most generalised maps were hidden from view.

This study is mainly based on recently declassified materials from Russian archives. As well as bureaucratic documents on policy, personnel, planning and production, the collections offer rich insights into, among other themes: map design, symbolism and content; teaching with maps and globes; map secrecy and censorship; topographical expeditions and fieldwork; the role of women in cartography; interactions with foreign mapping organisations; and political control and terror.

The research is also grounded in critical analysis of a huge range of sheet maps, atlases and globes; of handbooks of map-making and map-reading; and of cartographic imagery and allusions in cultural media including literature, film, graphic arts (especially political posters), photography, architecture and urban planning, postcards and postage stamps.

Planned Impact

A number of recent broadcasting events and an exhibition, in all of which I have been involved, testify to a high level of public interest in the history of cartography. During the Fellowship, in collaboration with the British Library, I shall capitalise on this existing public enthusiasm, building on my track-record in public engagement, as well as on experience gained in co-directing an AHRC follow-on project, to translate my research into three significant forms of impact.

1. Social-cultural impact: enhancing public knowledge and understanding

In 2010 I advised the producers of two BBC 4 television series on the history of cartography: 'Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession' and 'The Beauty of Maps: Seeing the Art in Cartography'. The 20 April 2011 repeat screening of episode two of 'The Beauty of Maps' attracted 445,000 viewers, a 54% uplift to BBC4's average share in that time-slot. I was also a consultant to the BL's major exhibition 'Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art' (2010), which attracted a record 227,000 visitors to the gallery and almost as many to the website. The Daily Telegraph wrote that 'This really is a show that turns the world on its head. I'll never look at a map in quite the same way again.' Cartography is clearly a crowd-puller, and has the potential to reshape people's views not merely of maps but of our social, cultural and political reality.

A BL exhibition drawing on my Soviet cartography research (possibly including Nazi and Fascist maps, see 'Pathways to Impact'), accompanied by public events, one or more articles in popular history magazines and talks to amateur historical and map societies, will aim similarly - if on a smaller-scale - to effect a shift in public knowledge and understanding of cartography as both a scientific and cultural phenomenon, as well as in perceptions of modern Russia's internal development and relations with other countries, and (depending on the focus of the exhibition) in the public appreciation of 20th century European history.

2. Educational impact: supporting and enriching the curriculum

The BL's exhibition was accompanied by a learning programme in which nearly 3,000 schoolchildren and adults participated. Map exhibits teach people about cartography, of course: about maps' technical production; how maps 'lie' and distort by their nature; how maps have their own cultural history; and how maps are nevertheless indispensible tools for orientation and planning, as well as for communicating spatial knowledge. But maps can be readily used to teach people about any phenomena, real or imagined, in the past, present or future, which can be analysed or described spatially.

Accordingly, I will explore ways of using the planned BL exhibition, with an associated website and other learning resources, to facilitate delivery of relevant parts, at different stages, of the History, Geography, Citizenship, General Studies and Humanities syllabi.

3. Economic impact: benefiting the UK's cultural sector

Visitors to the BL's exhibition spent a record £336,000 on associated publications and souvenirs. Over 3,000 people paid to attend events in the BL's programme of public talks and workshops accompanying its exhibition. A roundtable discussion on 'Power Propaganda and Art', in which I participated, sold out 250 seats (at £7.50 per ticket, generating £1875 of income for the library).

The proposed BL map exhibition arising from the Fellowship, with its own events programme, would thus generate revenue for a major public institution as well as intellectual and educational benefits for its visitors.


The 'Pathways to Impact' document includes suggestions for further potential exploitation of my cartography research for social, educational and economic benefit, as well as possible means of developing it - especially via existing and/or new collaborations with digitisation projects - to benefit policy-makers, professionals and the third sector.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Title Defining the Route 
Description I acted as consultant to a Moscow exhibition of original artworks on the themes of space, spatial cognition and spatial experience curated by prominent Russian artists Sasha Sokolov and Aleksandra Danilova. I regularly met with and engaged Sokolov in dialogue on the subject of my research into maps and conceptual understandings of space arising from my research over the period of one month during the design and development of the exhibition. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact I contributed directly to the design concept, proposing ideas which informed the creation of artworks and their and configuration in the exhibition space. I contributed a number of short essays and an interview to the catalogue accompanying the exhibition 'Defining the Route', which took place at the ArtPlay centre, Moscow, as part of the Moscow Biennale, in September 2013. 
URL http://www.artplay.ru/events/vystavka-vybiraya-marshrut.html
 
Description Extensive research on recently declassified materials in Russian state and former party archives revealed a hitherto unknown story of the evolution of Soviet mapping activities after the revolution. Until the late 1930s, bitter conflicts among diverse agencies, including economic ministries, the military and the political police, severely disrupted efforts to survey the vast Soviet territory as the basis for accurate and comprehensive maps, as well as to create and mass-produce small-scale maps for education and propaganda. Contentious issues included who should control mapping activities, who should define standards and conventions, who should determine which maps should remain secret, and who should regulate the circulation and use of maps. In 1938, Soviet mapping was finally unified directly under the jurisdiction of the government and in the subsequent fifteen years state geodesists and cartographers carried out the first full survey of state territory. The full survey and all resulting maps, however, remained top-secret. This research has opened up new ways of understanding Soviet political, social and cultural development, the nature of socialist space and the role of mapping and maps in the modern world.
Exploitation Route I am exploring ways in which theoretical and conceptual findings arising from my analysis of the role of mapping and maps in spatial construction, conception and communication may contribute to the development of new digital/spatial humanities work based on GIS and/or other forms of spatial visualiation. I have received two small/medium grants to date for further collaborative pilot studies in this direction, in which I am working alongside computer scientists and human-computer interaction specialists as well as other humanities scholars.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
 
Description The general historical, theoretical and conceptual insights developed on the basis of my specific research findings, have been deployed in the development of collaborative projects to examine new digital forms of mapping/spatial visualisation. One project contributed to the design of a new digital mapping platform for humanities scholars: DHPress (http://digitalinnovation.unc.edu/projects/dhpress/) Similarly, the wider understanding of space and spatial cultures gained through my research directly informed the creation and design of a major exhibition held in September 2013 as part of the Moscow Biennale. This attracted tens of thousands of visitors (precise numbers tbc) and garnered positive reviews from critics (evidence to be collated). In 2015-16, I acted as Academic Consultant to a major exhibition in the British Library on twentieth-century cartography.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal
 
Description DAM Network funding
Amount £6,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2013 
End 07/2014
 
Description Discipline Bridging Award
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Nottingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2013 
End 07/2014
 
Description Anglo-Russian Conference talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Keynote lecture (by invitation) 'Mapping the Soviet: Cartographic Culture and Political Power from Lenin to Stalin', at 4th International Conference: Language, Culture and Society in Russian/English Studies, Institute Of English Studies, University of London, Senate House, London, 22 July 2013

Lecture printed in volume of conference proceedings. Ongoing communications with several Russian scholars interested in my cartography research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Birnbeck talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Workshop presentation (by invitation) 'Internationalist Impulses and Transnational Interactions in Soviet Cartography under Lenin and Stalin', at Conference 'Agents of Internationalism', Birkbeck College, 19-20 June 2014.



Invitations to participate in further events and publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description DRHA talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Conference paper 'Spatial Humanities: Moving Beyond the Dot on a Map', at Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts Conference, University of Greenwich, 31 August 2014.

Development of further funding bids.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Durham talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Conference presentation (by invitation) 'Identities, Interests, Lobbies: Professions and Disciplines in Soviet Cartography, 1919-1953', at Conference 'Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Relations in Russia: Zones of Collaboration, Competition and Conflict', Institute of Advanced Study, Durham, 19-21 September 2014.


Invitations to participate in further events, publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Exhibition consultancy (BL) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Acted as expert consultant to British Library major exhibition 'Drawing the Line: Maps and the 20th Century' (November 2016-March 2017).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://www.bl.uk/events/maps-and-the-20th-century-drawing-the-line
 
Description Exhibition consultancy (Moscow) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I acted as consultant to a Moscow exhibition of original artworks on the themes of space, spatial cognition and spatial experience curated by prominent Russian artists Sasha Sokolov and Aleksandra Danilova. I regularly met with and engaged Sokolov in dialogue on the subject of my research into maps and conceptual understandings of space arising from my research over the period of one month during the design and development of the exhibition.

I contributed directly to the design concept, proposing ideas which informed the creation of artworks and their and configuration in the exhibition space. I contributed a number of short essays and an interview to the catalogue accompanying the exhibition 'Defining the Route', which took place at the ArtPlay centre, Moscow, as part of the Moscow Biennale, in September 2013.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.artplay.ru/events/vystavka-vybiraya-marshrut.html
 
Description Helsinki talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Conference presentation (by invitation) 'Cartography and Cultural Revolution: Maps, Modernity and the New Soviet Man', at Colloquium 'Russia, Spatiality, and Modernization', Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, 29-30 January 2014



Invitations to participate in collaborative bids for funding; invitations to contribute to publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Historical Association talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture (by invitation) 'Mapping the Soviet: Cartography and Culture under Lenin and Stalin', to Historical Association, Nottingham Branch, 3 October 2013.


Generated substantial interest among audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Ideologies talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Conference presentation (by invitation) 'Spatial Ideology and Soviet Cartographic Culture, from Lenin to Stalin', at 'Exploring Ideological Translation: An Interdisciplinary Conference', University of Nottingham, 9-11 July, 2014.


Invitations to contribute to further events, publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description RGS-IBG Annual Conference talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Conference paper (by invitation) 'Scales of Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Internationalism in Soviet Cartographic Culture and Practice, Lenin to Stalin', at RGS-IBG Annual Conference, London, 30 August 2013

Substantial scholarly interest in project. Invitations to contribute to edited volume/special journal issue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Urban Mapping talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Conference presentation 'PEP. Places/Events/People: Project Overview', at Workshop 'Urban Mapping. New Perspectives', University of Nottingham, 26 June 2014.

Invitations to contribute to further events, publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014