This picture was taken by Russian photographer, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in September 1909. Prokudin-Gorskii made a considerable number of trips to the area surrounding the Ural Mountains. The Ural Mountains run approximately, from north to south through western Russia.¹ The Ural region is comprised of numerous amounts of resources, that contributed greatly to the mineral sector of the Russian economy.
The first railway across the Ural region was completed in 1878, it connected Perm to Yekaterinburg. In 1890, another railway linked Ufa to Chelyabinsk which became a part of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1896. Since Tsar Peter the Great, the Ural region had been perceived across the Russian Empire as the country’s mineral treasure and military stronghold. However, the region was not perceived the same to outside states. Many outsiders believed that it was outdated and populated by people not wanted anywhere else. However, the Ural region played a major role in the economic growth and history of the Russian Empire.¹
In the fall of 1909, Prokudin-Gorskii visited Sim Station. Sim Station was located on a pre-existing railroad called the Samara-Zlatoust, which began in 1885. The railroad was completed in 1892 and resulted in access to the national rail system for the Sim Valley, along with access to Simskii Zavod (Sim Factory). The sturdy design use to create the water tower within the photo has proven its architectural stability, resulting in numerous towers with analogous designs that are still standing in present day. The long span of railway stretching towards the mountains in the photo elicits a sense of accomplishment and progression.² The west was advancing rapidly and in order to remain a major world power, the Russian Empire had to do so as well.
The evolution of the railway in the Russian Empire opened numerous doors and connected the most rural parts of the region to larger opportunities. In order to “modernize”, economic progress was vital, that was to be done by the balancing of Russia’s trade and promoting domestic industries.³ The growing use and improvement of the railways had a considerable impact on furthering their economic progress. The connection of rural Russia and Russia’s metropolitan areas gave forth a sense of advancement, the declining economic status of the Empire, needed.
- Givental, Elena. “Three Hundred Years of Glory and Gloom: The Urals Region of Russia in Art and Reality.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 14 Apr. 2013, journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2158244013486657.
- Prokudin-Gorskii. “View from the Rear Platform of the Simskaia Station of the Samara-Zlatoust Railway.” WDL RSS, Detroit Publishing Company, 1 Jan. 1970, http://www.wdl.org/en/item/5299/#q=Prokudin-Gorskii.
- Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 1997.
2 thoughts on “Russia’s Lifeline”
You made an interesting point about Russia feeling compelled to keep up with the west. I think that is certainly one of the reasons why the Empire wanted to industrialize so rapidly. I disagree that the railways gave a sense of advancement, however. One of the key themes that we have learned so far about Russia is the dilemmas that exist in the country — one of those dilemmas being whether to be more like the west or not. There were a lot of Russians who, at the time, were not in favor of chasing the west; this is one of the underlying causes of the revolutionary movements that came in the early 20th Century. There was mass disillusionment with government policies that favored rapid development over the needs of the people, and the railways were one of those policies.
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You’ve done a wonderful job of connecting the broader challenges of industrialization to the scene captured in this photograph. But I’m really intrigued by the source you found in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. You’ll have to tell me more about that in class!
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