Thursday, February 26, 2015

Time at Home: Material Realities and Russian Longing at the Fin de Siècle

This blog was originally posted on the REEEC blog on February 10, 2015.

Prof. Rebecca Friedman giving the
EU Centers of Excellence Director’s Lecture
Dr. Rebecca Friedman, professor of Russian history and director of the European Studies Program at Florida International University in Miami, presented a lecture on January 30th entitled “Time at Home: Material Realities and Russian Longing at the Fin de Siècle.” Co-sponsored by the EU Center and REEEC, Dr. Friedman’s lecture addressed the transitioning conceptions of time in Russia and how the space of the home reflected these temporal notions during the turbulent final decades of the Russian Empire during the Fin de Siècle. Her current project, Time at Home, explores the interplay between modernity and domestic space in Russia and focuses on three primary examples: the gentry estates of the 1890s, the urban private apartments of the early twentieth century, and the Soviet communal apartments of the 1930s.

Dr. Friedman’s lecture concentrated on the middle point in Russia’s evolution of domestic space with the new apartments in cities that began to be popular around the turn of the century. These urban homes serve as evidence of temporal transitions, both inside and out. Externally, the apartments demonstrated the Russian Empire’s efforts to modernize with the economic change to industrialization and its consequential rural-to-urban demographic shift. Internally, the types of furniture, knick-knacks, and the rooms themselves indicated that people regarded time in different, complex, and even contradictory ways. Friedman explained that the emphasis on hygiene and efficiency in the apartment expressed the Russian people’s desire to be modern and opposed to the regressive ways of the past. Women’s magazines and domestic columns in newspapers advised housewives to use new gadgets for cleaner homes in less time, to buy furniture that would not collect dust, and even how to organize each room of the apartment properly.

Dr. Friedman contends that, despite the stress on modern tools and efficient use of domestic space, people actually layered historical styles within the urban apartment of the early twentieth century. Nostalgia for the items and customs of the past as a way to retain their “Russian identity” caused many people to decorate their apartments with peasant handicrafts and artwork that portrayed idyllic scenes of the Russian countryside. The attempts to buy linear, modern furniture and to organize the home correctly as advised in magazines and journals exemplified people’s desire to be modern and reaching toward the future. Friedman asserts that the true Russian domestic aesthetic of temporal pastiche contradicted the modern periodical press’ advice to use efficiency to create an ideal domestic space because the people still felt nostalgic about the past. The overlapping influence from different eras (including past, present, and future) in the Russian urban apartment creates a muddled picture of how these apartments actually looked during the early twentieth century. According to Friedman’s lecture, the images of modern domestic space presented in the periodicals of the time cannot be trusted as true depictions of the apartment due to the influence of nostalgia on people’s choices. Perhaps in her finished work, Time at Home, she will include more specific examples of how these domestic spaces truly appeared and functioned in Russia at the Fin de Siècle.

Emily Lipira is an M.A. student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, with a primary focus on Russian history and Russian language. Her research interests include modernity, identity, and culture in early twentieth-century Russia in the decades around the 1917 revolutions. She received a B.A. in history from Northwest Missouri State University in 2008 and a M.A. in Modern European History from Saint Louis University in 2010.


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