Economy and society in rural Russia: the serf estate of Voshchazhnikovo, 1750-1860.

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Dennison, Tracy Kristine 

The central idea of this dissertation is to compare the dominant view of Russian rural society, as classically formulated by Aleksandr Chayanov in the early twentieth century, with local evidence from a particular serf community. Chayanov's view has been widely accepted not only as portraying a general type (the archetypal peasant), but as a substantially accurate representation oflate nineteenth and early twentieth-century peasant communities across the whole of European Russia, and much of Eastern Europe as well. In this picture, peasants are a paradigm of 'traditional society', with little sense of private property, an aversion to market transactions, social and geographical immobility, early and universal marriage, large multiple-family households, and strong communal ties. These features are often regarded as part of an underlying 'peasant culture' on which external constraints, such as serfdom, had little effect. In this dissertation, archival evidence for the Sheremetyev estate of Voshchazhnikovo in Y aroslavl' province is used to test this widely-held view. Household listings, soul revisions, parish registers, serf petitions, landlords' instructions, account books, communal meeting minutes, land transactions contracts, credit contracts, passport lists, inventories, and wills are used to construct a detailed picture of the workings of a serf society, and to examine the role of institutions such as serfdom and the peasant commune in a local context. The main finding of the dissertation, based on this evidence, is that the Chayanovian view is largely false, not only on the particular estate ofVoshchazhnikovo, but at least regionally in the province of Yaroslavl', and possibly beyond. The social and economic behavior of peasants here was not dissimilar to what has been found in many parts of pre-industrial western Europe. Serfs at Voshchazhnikovo were active participants in land, labour, and credit markets at the local and regional level. They were free to sell, let, mortgage, or bequeath their substantial private landholdings. They were geographically mobile; labourers came to work on the Voshchazhnikovo estate from other parts of Russia, and many estate serfs lived in Moscow and St Peters burg as migTant labourers. There was agTeat deal of intra-communal conflict on the estate. Not all serfs at Voshchazhnikovo lived in large, multi-generational households; mean household size ranged from 4.6 in 1816 to 5.2 in 1850, and roughly half of all households were the simple-family type. Wealth was not distributed equally; in fact, there was a high degree of socio-economic stratification, and inter-:-generational transfers of wealth were common. Finally, contrary to the traditional view, the external institutional framework - serfdom, in particular - did have a significant effect on social structure ancl peasant behaviour.


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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge