Russian Archive Diaries: A Blog

Lenin Library Andrei Nesterov Andrei Nesterov, SRAS Archive Services Lead, outside the Lenin Library in central Moscow.

The following are observations by SRAS employees and clients while exploring Russian archives as part of SRAS’ Research Support Services. Entries will cover particularly interesting information found as well as information on using the archives, particularly as requirements change in the developing COVID era. We will also be maintaining information on accessing archives on our Russian Archive Guides.

RGVIA: A Great Resource on WWI

10-Dec-2021

By Andrei Nesterov, Archive Research Services Lead

RGVIA is a unique archive located in the beautiful Lefortovo Palace, built in 1699 and with long military history. The archive has documents about more than 200 years of battles of the Russian Empire, starting from the Peter the Great’s wars, until World War I.

It is not easy to get in: first, a researcher must get a membership (записаться). I had to wait for two weeks until I could visit RGVIA on the scheduled day to sign up for my membership. Then I had to wait for three more weeks until the next visit, to see the files I needed.

It was worth it: the materials of World War I that I explored were in extremely good condition. Further, the beautiful calligraphic hand of these ancestors who wrote the documents were probably those of professional scribes. For a linguist, it would be interesting to research the Russian formal language of 100 years ago.

The spelling of the documents of 1914-1916 was in the new Russian language version, although the spelling reform was only officially implemented in 1918.

Currently, the interest to World War I in Russia is growing, with more people looking for info about their ancestors who served in the Russian Imperial Army. There are many websites dedicated to the Great War such as Pomnimvseh (on that website, people can create a gallery of their veteran ancestors. For this reason, the popularity of RGVIA among researchers is definitely increasing.

If I have a chance, in the future, I will explore many topics such as Brusilov offensive (Брусиловский прорыв), the most well-known military operation of that time. It would also be interesting to research the disintegration of the Russian Army after the revolution of 1917.

The story of the WWI archive itself is fascinating, to trace how the files of 1917 were kept safe and transported to Moscow in the period of turmoil.

RGVIA is very comfortable for using laptops, as it has many electric sockets and work spaces. The lunch break is short, only 20 minutes, so a researcher can accomplish much in a day.

The downside of working at RGVIA is the very long waiting time for photographing files (up to 1.5 months) or scanning (up to 2 months).

Collection 89 at RGANI: Late Soviet History

6-Dec-2021

By Andrei Nesterov, Archive Research Services Lead

I took the opportunity to look at famous Collection 89 (коллекция 89) at RGANI. This collection is accessible from only one computer in the RGANI reading room. Even two visits were not enough for me to complete the review of this collection of about 3,000 files of declassified documents from 1922 – 1991.

The documents were declassified mainly in the process of preparing the trial in the case of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (“дело КПСС”) in 1992 by the special commission established by President Yeltsin in May of that year. The trial ended on November 30, 1992, with a contradictory verdict which condemned the Communist Party by stating that “the regime of unlimited power based on violence, of a relatively small group of party officials led by the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee under the leadership of the Secretary General prevailed”. At the same time, the verdict considered the President’s order to investigate the facts of the possible unconstitutional activities of the Communist Party of the RSFSR and the nationalization of the property of the CPSU as being inconsistent with the Constitution. The suspension of the activities of the bodies and organizations of the Communist Party of the RSFSR and the dissolution of the governing structures of the CPSU and the Communist Party of the RSFSR (but not the grassroots party organizations formed according to the territorial principle) were recognized as not complying with the Constitution.

From the today’s perspective, the documents of collection 89 do not reveal any serious crime on the part of the CPSU. Leaving aside the purges of the 1930s, the documents of the later periods reveal the facts of the CPSU financial support to the Communist parties in other countries, but it is natural for a country’s ruling party to try to win allies abroad.

What intrigued me was the feeling of helplessness of the Soviet leaders at the end of the 1980s, when many official reports described extreme shortages of foodstuff and basic necessities all over the country, and no measures to improve the situation were taken.

RGANI archivists recommend using collection 89 when documents on other topics are lacking, the collection covers a range of issues from the Chernobyl disaster to the disarmament talks between the USSR and the USA in the 1970s.

Russian Archives Under COVID

06-Dec-2021

By Andrei Nestrov, Archive Research Services Lead
and Josh Wilson, SRAS Assistant Director

Most of Russia’s archives are currently operating under special regimes. These often include alterations to the number of files (delo) that may be requested as well as special scheduling practices to limit the number of people in the reading room at any given time. In many, the price of photocopies or scans has risen.

On the plus side, many have opened online services to schedule reading room time and to request documents in advance, which can make the process more efficient. However, new prices mean that the process is often more expensive. Copies must generally be retrieved in person. Those unable to travel to Russia can contact SRAS for remote archive services.

Each archive has developed its own operational regime. Specific changes made since reopening have been listed below for each. All archives have notices posted that masks and gloves must be worn while inside.

GARF

Our full GARF guide can be found here. Below are recent changes to the archive’s functioning.

  1. Maximum number of delo: 10 (with an additional maximum of 750 sheets of management documentation or 250 sheets from personal archives)
  2. Scheduling practices: No appointments must be made in advance, but if the researcher is not among the first 23 visitors to arrive that day, he/she will have to wait until someone leaves GARF.
  3. Ease of getting in: We recommend to arrive at GARF early enough to be among the first 23 visitors.
  4. Photography practices / copies, etc.: Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the documents. The price for ordering copies is either 48 rubles/frame “without improvement of quality” or 72 rubles/frame “with improvement of quality.” The price for taking photos on a researcher’s camera is 38-46 rubles, depending on the document and format.
  5. Special working hours: GARF is working in “shifts,” with one in the morning, followed by a “disinfection hour,” followed by a second shift. Time slots are contained within these shifts.

Current hours are as follows:

Monday, Wednesday: 10:00 – 14:00 and 15:00-18:00
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 10:00 – 13:00 and 14:00-17:00
Friday: 10:00–13:00 and 14-00-17:00.
Closed on Saturday and Sunday and the last working day of each month (sanitarny den).

RGASPI

Our full RGASPI guide can be found here. Below are recent changes to the archive’s functioning.

  1. Number of delo: No restrictions
  2. Scheduling practices: To visit the RGASPI main reading room at Bolshaya Dmitrovka 15, you must come with an ID and a letter from university/research organization. To visit the reading room at Profsoyuznaya Street 52, a researcher must make an appointment by calling (495) 718-69-85
  3. Ease of getting slots: RGASPI main reading room at Bolshaya Dmitrovka 15 is generally open to all who come. We have not tested the room at Profsoyuznaya yet. If you have, let us know how your experience went by sending us an email.
  4. Photography practices / copies, etc: Visitors are allowed to take photos of the documents on a paid basis, after signing an official agreement with RGASPI. The price for photographing one page is 47 rubles for documents older than 1931 and 40 rubles per page for documents from 1931 and later. The price for scanning one page is 156 rubles for documents older than 1931 and 130 rubles for documents from 1931 and later.

RGALI

Our full RGALI guide can be found here. Below are recent changes to the archive’s functioning.

  1. Number of delo: No restrictions
  2. Scheduling practices: To visit RGALI reading room for microfilm, make an appointment by calling 8(499)156-69-52), to visit RGALI reading room for manuscripts, make an appointment by calling 8(499)159-75-13
  3. Ease of getting slots: Access to the microfilm room is usually available within a few days; appointments for the RGALI reading room for manuscripts are available about 10 days after calling for an appointment.
  4. Photography practices / copies, etc.:

Microfilm: Visitors are allowed to take photos for free only of the documents on microfilms, and on a paid basis – from hard copy documents, after signing an official agreement with RGALI. The price for photographing one page from microfilm is 113 rubles for documents from the 17th-18th centuries, 97 rubles for documents from the 19th century to 1930, and 82 rubles for documents of 1931 and later. Photographing paintings and graphics is more expensive – up to 405 rubles per page.

Hardcopy: For hardcopy documents, photocopying price per page is 54 rubles for documents from 1931 to the XXI century documents, and the earlier documents are allowed only to be scanned or photographed.

  1. Special working hours: RGALI is working in “shifts,” with one in the morning, followed by a “disinfection hour,” followed by a second shift. Time slots are contained within these shifts. Current hours are as follows:

Monday, Tuesday: 9:00-13:00 and 14:00-19:00,
Wednesday, Thursday: 9:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00,
Friday: 9:00-13:00 and 14:00-15:00,
First working day of each month – closed (sanitarny den).

The Russian State Library

Our full State Library guide can be found here. Below are recent changes to the archive’s functioning.

  1. Number of delo: 3-20 documents (the permitted amount varies by department)
  2. Scheduling practices: Documents must be ordered in advance either via an online form or by calling +7 (499) 557-04-70 доб. 23-56. No paper requests for documents are accepted, as it was before when a researcher ordered documents after coming to the library and filled out paper request forms.
  3. Ease of getting in: One can come to the library any day without problem, after ordering the documents at least a couple of hours beforehand.
  4. Photography practices / copies, etc.: Photographing documents is free, but the librarian must first grant you permission. Scans or photocopies, if preferred, can be made starting from 7 rubles per page.

Those unable to travel to Russia can contact SRAS for remote archive services.

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About the Author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life, Worldpress.org, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an MA from St. Petersburg State in International Relations. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource. He additionally helps coordinate activities for our students in Moscow.

View all posts by: Andrei Nesterov