The Cultural and Economic Shifts of Russia

Hi everyone!  My name is Ethan Lundquist and I am currently a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in history, as well as minoring in political science and geography.  This blog is centered around topics that appear in my 20th Century Russia class, and while I have never extensively studied Russia before this class, I hope to blog about interesting topics and create some nice discussion points.

But before we get into details, I want to use this bog post to talk about a bigger picture, and that bigger picture is the shifting identity of Russia.  It seems to be a pretty well known fact that Russia has always lagged a bit behind the Western world in terms of ideas, technology, etc.  However, it seems to be less known that up until the mid-19th century, Russia had an agrarian based economy and a class based social system in place.  Not until the lower class serfs and peasants grew tired with this system, along with industrial growth advancements did the economy and class system begin shifting.  So you may be wondering, what does a picture of a generator have to do with all of this?  Well to me, it’s more of a symbol of cultural and economic shift in Russia.  The modernization and industrialization of Russia in the second half of the 19th century meant that more workers were needed for factories and less were needed in the fields.  Therefore, as the economy shifted to industry, lower class workers shifted to industrial jobs as well, changing the direction of Russia economically and culturally.

As far as the image being a symbol of shifts in Russian culture, from the 1850’s right up until now, Russia has undergone continual shifts that have shaped it’s history.  From the era of czar’s to world war period, followed by the cold war and communist period, Russia has taken many different identities, and to me, this image represented the first major shift in what has been a long line of shifts in a relatively short period of time for Russia.  And without each and every one of these shifts, Russia could be completely different than how we know it today.


As for the actual image, it was created by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, photographer to Czar Nicholas II.  The exact generator in the photo was an alternator at a hydroelectric power station along the Murghab River.

The permanent record of this photo can be found at:



Ethan the picture of the generator is a great way to show the shift in Russia’s growth in the second half of the 19th century. The symbolism of this picture can be taken and view in so many ways. I look at it and see the struggle of old Russia vs. new Russia. You did hit on it in your post a little of how this culture shift changed Russia from the bottom up. Photos like these are a great way for people to catch how simple things like a generator can be seen as such a culture shift in history.