Blood and Snow: Military Death in Late Imperial Russia, 1904-1917
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Blood and Snow: Military Death in Late Imperial Russia, 1904-1917


This dissertation explores the implications of “dying for the motherland” in late imperial Russia. What did this mean at the turn of the twentieth century, when battlefields were being transformed by new technologies of war, the population was becoming increasingly urban and literate, and in a geopolitical entity that was as much imperial as it was national? While the vast majority of the scholarship on military death has revolved around the idea of the nation, my research on late imperial Russia foregrounds the critical role played by three other thematic factors: technology, modernity, and space. Methodologically, I take the approach that the material remains of the dead soldiers, sailors, and aviators were not distinct from their representations but profoundly symbiotic. These two aspects reflected an intertwining of military and media, battlefield and home front, in ways that were central to the social and cultural history of the era. At this time, new technologies of destruction, new modes of communication, and new ideas about citizenship and personhood were challenging prior conceptions about what dying for Russia should mean. This process was fuelled by the media, which was grappling with the same world of novel ideas but also trying to understand how to market them to a mass audience. I argue that placing military death at the fulcrum of this interchange reveals a dynamic between the military and the media that the tsarist government valiantly tried, but ultimately failed, to control. The military dead were conscripted posthumously to causes beyond the nation. Using archival documents, printed materials, and visual sources, I adopt a spacious definition of military death that includes killing and dying, institutional and personal responses, and representations. The five chapters of my dissertation cover the Russo-Japanese War through the early years of the First World War. My work insists that matters of military death, most intimate and personal, not only map onto the broader ebbs and flows of cultural change and revolutionary ferment but offer some novel and critical insights into those processes.

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