Looking at Literacy in a Multi-Ethnic Russian Empire

While Kappeller discusses several different aspects of ethnicity in the nineteenth century in the eighth chapter of The Russian Ethnic Empire, the portion discussing the growth of literacy most definitely stands out.  When discussing literacy, Kappeller first explains that the censuses taken in the latter half of the century, he notes that literacy was defined by reading, but not necessarily writing.  Additionally, only the ability to read and write Russian was recorded, making literacy rates among certain ethnic populations lower.  Kappeller notes this could be one of two things: either education in the ethnic school systems were oral and repetition-based (or as Kappeller calls it, “parrot fashion”), or the census may not have taken into account foreign languages such as “Arabic, Tatar, Hebrew, Yiddish, or Mongolian” (Kapeller, pg. 310).  Additionally, he compares literacy between Protestant and Jewish populations with Protestants in Russia having more literacy, primarily because women were more literate in these communities than in Jewish communities.  This can be tied to the differences in educational beliefs, like that in Jewish communities, education was geared toward men.

1. Although Kapeller mentions that had the census recorded the ability to write along with literacy, it would have made the numbers for literacy in Russia as a whole significantly decrease, the bigger question is not why writing was not recorded in the census, but rather why were so many people literate yet not able to write?

2. Why wasn’t literacy still widespread with the general population of Russian women at this point in time, and mostly just in Protestant communities?

Russian Serfdom and American Slavery

While the two systems of human bondage appear significantly different, they are more similar that most realize.  At the basis for both systems was the shortage of labor.  For the Russian system, this was less prominent until the Mongol period.  Mongolian conquest, Mongolian centralization of the state, and plague  caused population shifts, forcing the nobility to largely abandon the indentured servitude systems that had been used for centuries, replacing it with serfdom, where the workers tied to land, rather than an individual.  The United States, in contrast, continued Europe’s tradition of using slaves, primarily from Africa as the main source of labor.  As the British colonies expanded, the need for exported labor grew drastically.  Driven by differences in race and a disconnect between the slave and the master that was not so distinct in Russia, American Slavery tied the slave to the owner, and were not considered human, but only as property.  As slaves were seen as property in the United States, entire businesses for created around the transportation of new Africans to the Western Hemisphere, as well as Europe.  In Russia, since slaves were not owned by an individual, and the importation of humans was not present, the concept of a business surrounding the selling of slaves was unknown to the Russian nobility.

It was not until the mid 1800’s for both nations for their own respective forms of slavery were to be abolished.  In Russia, serfdom was seen as inhumane since the enlightenment, but was unable to find an alternative to nobles’ source of labor for working the land.  This caused serfdom to be practiced for another century after the enlightened ideals became prominent.  Similarly in the United States, the issue of finding alternative labor also proved difficult for plantation owners.  This was in addition to the blacks being seen as inferior to their white masters. This was not seen in Russia’s system.  There was a rapidly expanding abolitionist movement among a wide range of social classes.  The debate on whether or not slavery should continue was one of the main reasons the Civil War occurred.

If Russia also had a shortage of labor, why did they not import slaves from other areas, especially when there was a lot of economic potential in the business?

How significant is the fact that it took much longer for the two nations than Britain and other European countries to abolish slavery/serfdom?