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Investigating Russian Cultural Change and Stability in Russian America: Initial Results

Timothy (Ty) L. Dilliplane (Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, USA)


Project Introduction

This paper introduces a research project designed to guage the impact of isolation on traditional Russian culture at two settlements in Russian America. Specifically, it discusses the results of the first phase of the study. The colonies under consideration are the colonial capital of New Archangel (present-day Sitka), and the even more isolated site of Kolmakovskiy Redoubt in Southwestern Alaska. Studying the effects of isolation from the motherland on traditional behaviors within these communities may help us to better understand the ways in which culture can adapt or not adapt under such strenuous conditions. Doing so may have significant benefits for the planning of future communities in currently uninhabited areas. Also, such an approach, in general, has high potential for the uncovering of presently unknown daily life details in a fascinating, colorful, and under-researched facet of North American history.

The intent of the project's first phase was to establish the database needed for the overall study. That is, a detailed look was taken at various sources in the hope of discovering specific behaviors which can be looked upon as defining elements of traditional Russian culture in Metropolitan Russia. Once defined, the daily activities of Russian colonists at New Archangel and Kolamakovskiy Redoubt would then be examined for the presence or absence of these elements. “Metropolitan Russia” is here defined as the overall land mass of European and Siberian Russia stretching from that nation's western European borders to the Pacific Ocean. The term “ traditional” is offered as meaning typically found cultural behaviors spanning that landmass during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Several points should be made here. First, I have undertaken this first phase with humility, and no illusions as to the difficulty and challenge involved. I am not of Russian extraction, and thus do not have a native understanding of the traditions of Russian culture. Furthermore, to accomplish such a detailed task with thoroughness for the Russian culture would require a tremendous effort involving more time than here available. The Marquis de Custine, a Frenchman who visited Russia in 1839, reported that the wife of Tsar Nicholas I, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, told him: “If you think well of us, you will say so, but it will be useless; you will not be believed: we are ill understood, and people will not understand us better” (Custine 1989: 161). It is possible that the Empress's statement arose from a view that Western Europe was simply unable to understand Russian lifeways. Perhaps others in Russia felt the same way. The Marquis reported that “The Russians are incessantly repeating to me that it is requisite to spend at least two years in their country before passing a judgment upon it; so difficult is it to understand” (Custine 1989: 77). In any case, my effort to delineate traditional Russian cultural behaviors will take the form of an initial survey, and will hopefully serve as a platform from which to launch any similar and more exhaustive investigations in the future.

Secondly, given the vastness of the area concerned, and the diversity of non-Russian ethnic groups found there, it is understood that ethnic Russian culture was continuously exposed to other cultural influences. David Buxton points out that the Russians who explored Siberia learned critically important lifeways from Natives living there, to include how to survive Siberia's icy winters (1989: 11). In writing about the origins of Russian food, Anne Volokh points out the ongoing interactions that Russian culture has had with other cultures (1983: 2): “ As a nation situated between two vast civilizations—Western Europe and the Orient—Russia has, through trade, foreign invasion, and its own territorial expansion, been subject to the influences of a multitude of cultures. These influences in turn have been experienced, absorbed, and transformed to suit the national character”. Such influences could lead to significant additions to Russian culture, such as the introduction and popularity of tea, and the widespread use of the samovar (see below). It follows, then, that the objective here must be to find behaviors commonly identified with Russian culture—regardless of origins or other areas of the world in which they are seen—and normally found across Metropolitan Russia. Multiple behaviors of Russian culture will be considered in this search, to include architecture, foods, modes of transportation, etc.

The identification of such specific behaviors of traditional Russian culture will then comprise the database by which an initial evaluation of the stability and change of traditional Russian culture in far-removed and isolated Russian America (the Russian colonies of Alaska and California) will be evaluated. Two settlements in Russian Alaska will be examined for this purpose—the capital of New Archangel (the town of present-day Sitka; Southeastern Alaska), and the much more isolated outpost of Kolmakovskiy Redoubt (currently an archaeological site; Southwestern Alaska).

It should be noted at this point that locating specific behaviors of traditional Russian culture is not taken to mean those behaviors that were found ONLY in Russian society of the 1700s and 1800s. It is understood that many of these elements may also be found in an exact or similar form in other cultures of the period. However, it is also believed that such repetition would, of and by itself, have no bearing on whether those elements were fundamental parts of the Russian culture of the timeframe under consideration. Indeed, the critical factor here is the widespread acceptance / usage, during the 18th and 19th centuries, of various behaviors as an integral part of the period culture.

A key source of such traditional behavioral data in Metropolitan Russia are 18th and 19th century travelogues written by those visiting there. These published journals / letters range from being clearly prejudiced against things “ Russian”, to being highly laudatory. However, biased travel accounts, whether negatively or positively oriented, have the potential to identify key aspects of the culture visited. Other sources concern modern historical evaluations of traditional Russian material culture, such as architectural forms, while a few offer pertinent data via illustrative or photographic means. Information relating to specific 18th and 19th century traditional Russian behaviors in European and Siberian Russia has been gleaned from all three of these source types. Data of this nature is distinguished in the paper by those terms that are underlined, and highlighted. These are listed under their general behavioral categories, which are provided alphabetically.

Please note that at times this research refers to late 19th - early 20th century examples of what is being discussed as reflections of what may have existed during the time of Russian America, ending as much as some 50 years earlier. It is felt that this can be plausibly done since «culture lag” in traditional Russian culture can be significant. Both the northeastern and northwestern regions of European Russia offer examples. A bastion of traditional Russian culture can be considered to lie in the area of Northeastern European Russia, encompassing the drainages of the Pinega, Mezen, North Dvina, Onega, and Pechora Rivers. It was in this area that traditional Russian lifeways remained intact, despite the passage of time, and—in the 1800s—yielded for documentation wedding songs, stories, and other reflections of old Russian life (Razina, et al 1990: 17). Culture lag is also seen in Fyodorov's article on traditional architecture in “Transonega”, the area surrounding Lake Onega in northwestern European Russia. The author provides a general statement concerning this as follows: «... nineteenth-century houses retained many traditional features which help us to reconstruct the domestic architecture of much earlier periods” (Fyodorov 1972: 84). Fyodorov provides details concerning a traditional “koshel”—the oldest type of house still standing in this area (Fyodorov 1972: 84). This particular koshel—the Oshevnev house— was built in 1876, but “The type and arrangement of the different sections follows the traditional pattern, i.e., it corresponds more or less to descriptions in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chronicles and other documentary sources” (Fyodorov 1972: 88).

Finally, two other points are in order. First, due to time constraints, this paper can only present selected highlights of the effort to identify key elements of 18th / 19th century traditional Russian culture. Second, I very much welcome corrections and suggestions for additions / deletions!

Phase I Summary:

Consolidated Database of Behavioral Descriptors for Specific 18th and 19th Century Traditional Russian Behaviors

A listing of descriptors for the 18th and 19th century traditional Russian behaviors found in this study, per their individual categories, follows:

Civilian Architectural Behaviors

historical Russian wooden architecture         northern izba

village layout                                           mushroom turret

Koshel                                                      Brus

Glagol                                                       ridge-beam carving

polotentse                                                 prichelini

nalichniki                                                 painted exterior carvings

log-building template                               wood-usage template

Defense Architectural Behaviors kremlin                                                     ostrog

fort-building   template                            vezhi


Dressing and Hair / Beard-Wearing Behaviors touloupe                                                   beard

caftan                                                       sash

pantaloons                                                large leather boots

over-hanging shirt                                   wide-rimmed / round hat

povoinik                                                   above-bosom waist

tunic                                                         Indian handkerchiefs, etc.

No waist binding                                      padded stockings

merchants' wives headdress                     kokoshnik

haircut / pod kruzhok                              valenki

Drinking: See Recreational Behaviors

Eating Behaviors

(for Recreational Eating, See Recreational Behaviors) frozen cranberries                                    cabbage soup

mushrooms                                               iukoshko

struganini                                                zakuski

caviar                                                                  piroghi / pirozhki

blini                                                          Butterweek

blini                                                          party black / brown bread

kasha                                                        pel'meni

cold sturgeon with horseradish                sterlet stew

cold and sour soup                                   sugared vinegar soups

beginning-of-meal dessert placement

Household Behaviors

wood houses                                             izba odor

large green-leather sofas                         non-use of beds

curved-sided / rimmed-topped ceramics  distinctive stove birch bark vessels

Personal Hygiene Behaviors odor                                                          steam bath

Punctuality Behaviors timeliness

Recreational Behaviors

eating                                                       morning tea

evening tea / supper                                tea-drinking

tea essence                                               Russian tea glasses

samovar                                                    vatrushki

prianiki                                                    krendels

cut-glass saucers                                      buterbrody

morning tea-time (8/9 AM)                      evening tea-time (9/10 PM)

balalaika                                                  bear

traditional tune melancholy                     dance: “Ruski”

dance: “Cossack Waltz.”                          dance: “Kapalooshka”

kvass                                                        kvass-serving pitcher

“Russian mountains”                               Russian see-saw

military exercises / reviews                     namedays

Tsar's nameday                                        coronation anniversary

dancing / singing

costumed groups                                      recreational quietness


Religious Behaviors

three-barred cross                                    icon

embroidered towels                                  krazny ugol

individual crossing                                   workplace church services

Wednesday fasting                                   Friday fasting

Social Behaviors partial seclusion of women                      hospitality

Vehicular Transportation Behaviors duga                                                         droschky

long droschky                                           telega

kibitka                                                      sledge

sledge bells                                               troika

Walking / Non-Walking Behaviors walking avoidance

Woodworking Behaviors Axe

Phase I Discussion:

Identification of a Traditional Russian Behavioral Database-18th and 19th Centuries


The Marquis Astolphe de Custine, a French nobleman and writer, visited Russia for under three months in 1839. Writing a travel journal about his trip that brought him literary success, the Marquis partly sets the stage by writing that his trip to Russia exposed him to antique behaviors not seen for many years in Western Europe. In a story told

to Custine and others, “Prince K-----” stated that “ 'In everything,

Russia is four centuries behind the world' ” (Custine 1989: 65). Later, Custine expounds on this thought when he writes (1989: 424): “What a singular journey is this, which in a fortnight conveys you into Europe as it was 400 years ago!”

Civilian Architectural Behaviors


During Theophile Gautier's visit to Russia from 1858 to 1859, his first stop was at the imperial capital of St. Petersburg. He tells us that brick houses covered by stucco were most common in St. Petersburg (Gautier 1881: 68).

The importance of historical Russian wooden architecture as an element of traditional Russian culture is made abundantly clear by Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova (1989: 15):

Russian wooden architecture is a vigorous branch of the national culture, with its roots deep in ancient times... Medieval Russian architecture sprang from real life and contained the very essence of the Russians' view of their world, their perception of beauty, indeed everything that goes to make up the character of the nation and its distinctive art. The fruits of such creativity, profoundly national in form and content, make an invaluable contribution to universal human culture, evoking a sense of oneness with nature and with the past.

General Importance and Characteristics of the Izba

One of the defining characteristics of true Russian culture, according to the Marquis de Custine, is the izba (along with the sledge; see below; 1989: 548). The term “izba” has been used as a general reference to Russian peasant homes. The northern izba was, in a sense, almost mystical in its importance to traditional Russian culture. This is made clear by Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova when they explain: Nature has always provided shelter for man. The Russian izba (basically a log-built dwelling) and the village (also constructed almost entirely of wood) were a continuation of the natural world, fashioned and transfigured by man, to be sure, but always preserving its primal essence: the tree lived on in the logs, the timber floors and ceilings, the polished tables and benches. The Russian peasants' izba was more than their home: it was their entire world, reflecting the universe and their place therein. Their house served as fortress and refuge. Its ornament and detail symbolized

all that they needed and asked for from nature; it expressed, too, their

oneness with it (1989: 27).

The architectural “ornament and detail” just mentioned differed within European Russia. In the north, exterior izba decoration was less emphasized / more restrained than was its counterpart in the Volga region, where “such houses, though smaller, were decorated with intricate carved and painted woodwork. It was also an old custom to decorate the izba's interior with painted designs, which appeared on the floor, walls, furniture, and baby's crib” (Razina et al 1990: 18). As we will see, these log izbas could have highly carved, and symbolic, exterior decorative elements integrated into the roof and wall structures.

«Mushroom” Turrets

The mushroom turret is a very prevalent element in Russian church architecture and, as a result, is here considered a defining element of traditional Russian culture. It is often seen surmounted with the crescent and triple-barred Russian Orthodox cross. Several mushroom turrets in Moscow and Kostroma are illustrated in Custine's work (1989: 444-445), while Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova's book devotes an entire chapter to church architecture, with illustrations of onion domes (1989: 143-250).

Log Construction

The huge amounts of wood required by the Russian culture for building and heating purposes caused Custine to wonder how any forests could still exist (1989: 369). Custine's impression of Russian log architecture, seen by others as admirable, was quite different: “The houses are only piles of the trunks of trees, badly put together, and supporting roofs of plank, to which in winter an extra cover of thatch is sometimes added” (1989: 366). We are told by Custine that some Russian “cottages” are constructed of clay, but that—for the most part—such houses are made of wood logs. Custine felt that the logs were hewn rather unskillfully, but did credit the care taken with the caulking process (which utilized moss and resin) (1989: 454). Indeed, he noted that a village house in which he stayed on the road to Yaroslavl (from Moscow) was “caulked with moss and pitch as carefully as if it were a boat” (Custine 1989: 465).

The typical izba was, indeed, generally squarish in construction, often measuring in the vicinity of 6.5m x 6.5m. It was usually built with the log corners projecting out (not flush), or “in oblo” (Russian: v oblo) style. Until the 1500s, the usual izba did not have a cellar, but during the 1600s the inclusion of cellars in izba construction was common. The typical Russian stove found in the izba apparently changed little over the centuries (Anonymous 2005: 518).

Not all Russian izbas were structures dedicated solely to domestic uses. Some could be physically linked to work areas, all under one roof. Two types of these structures were built in Transonega, in Northwestern European Russia. One of these was the Koshel; the second, the Brus. Fyodorov explains that, of the two, the Koshel is the oldest and most frequently seen type, and that it could be rather large. An example discussed is the still-standing three and two-story Oshevnev House, constructed in 1876 for a 22 member peasant family. This particular building is comprised of the izba portion (the living quarters), part of which is directly heated by a two — three square meter clay stove, and part of which is not. The izba, actually on the second floor of the building, sits on top of an unspecified use area on the ground floor, and has a small, highly decorated balcony surrounding what appears to be a window directly underneath the front gable of the house. Directly attached to the side of the izba portion of the building, and sharing the same roof, is a covered work area, also consisting of two stories. The ground floor of this non-izba portion of the building is devoted to two cattle pens; the upper floor consists of food and tool storage rooms. This covered work area is served by two arched doors on one side, one each on each floor, with the one on the second floor reached by a ramp. Sleighs and cattle accessed the building through the lower door, while hay was brought in via the ramp and upper door. Another distinctive feature of the Koshel, as seen in the Oshevnev House, is a verandah which runs around the sides of the izba itself (Fyodorov 1972: 77-80; 84-90).

It is interesting to note that the evolution of the izba in Northern European Russia occurred relatively late in history. It was not until the beginning of the 1600s that people began to consider placing both the izba and some of its associated work areas all under a single roof. The options to do this had fully developed by the end of the 18th century (Anonymous 2005: 519).

Not all izbas in Northern European Russia, were Koshels, Bruses, or Glagols. Specifically in the Arkhangelsk area, many of the izbas in the late 18th century remained simple, basic dwellings due to the poverty of the peasants living there. These were the poorest of the peasants—the otkhodniks (those who left their homes looking for town-based seasonal jobs), the batraks (hired workers), and the bobyls (landless peasants).

Commonly roofed-over izbas / non-domestic locations were not usually seen in southern Russia and Siberia. In these regions the izba was a separate building, with the various needed work areas ranged around it in a courtyard-type of style (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 44-45; Anonymous 2005: 519). Intriguing examples of traditional Russian architecture in Siberia can be seen at the Taltsi Architecture and Ethnographic Museum, near Irkutsk, Russia.

Traditions from Northern European Russia transplanted to Siberia were subject to both change and non-change. An example of this is the architecture of the family residence and work areas. The izbas built in Siberia had much in common with their European counterparts in northern Russia, but they also reflected Siberian traditions (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 80). Across Siberia, the architectural organization of the izba / work area compound was significantly different from that of Northern European Russia. Whereas the izba of the latter region might be located in a fenceless, large, commonly-roofed, multi-purpose structure having animal pens, storage areas, a hay loft, and other work areas (see above), its Siberian counterpart was not. There each izba stood by itself, with the family's various work areas—reflected in separate-standing structures nearby—closely ranged around it. Along with a high, stout wood fence surrounding the compound, and izba structural elements meant to increase the defensive security of the family, the overall assemblage of buildings looked like a small fort. This military type of posture was due to the hostile Natives and escaped Siberian convicts which could sometimes threaten various locales (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 80). The fortified izba / work courtyard area of the Siberian Russian homestead could even be expanded into a two work courtyard area—one having the animal stocks, and one devoted to non-husbandry work tasks (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 80-81).

Traditional Northern Russian wooden izbas can have several highly distinctive exterior decorations. One of these is a carved wooden imaginary figure, which is at the very end of the shelom, or ridge beam of the house. Hence, the figure stands immediately above the apex of the gable. This feature is referred to as a “heraldic beast”, or as a ridge-beam carving (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 28-29; Bartenev 1972: 258, 270-271). Potentially hanging from this same apex is the polotentse, a short, decoratively carved slat of wood, while—running down each of the gable's eaves—were the prichelini, another type of carved board which covered over the ends of the horizontal roof logs aligned parallel, and below, the shelom. The prichelini and polotentse were not just for show, but had a symbolic meaning. Traditionally having images of the sun carved into them, they served to depict the triumph of light over evil. An izba could also have several rows of intricate carvings, each running horizontally above the windows and below the eaves. House carvings can include intricate, undetermined (by the author) decorations, to those that incorporate animals or mythical figures into the decorations.  Decorations around the izba's windows,  nalichniki, could also be quite elaborate. These “window surrounds” consisted of carved wooden decorations above, below, and to the sides of the actual windows, the side variants being solely decorative shutters which—in an earlier time—had been functional. People living in the Onega district particularly liked nalichniki comprised of “curved volutes, or scrolls”. It is interesting to observe that this same type of nalichniki was also found along the Angara River, in southern Siberia. A later style used on nalichniki called upon decorative triangles or rectangles to be placed on the tops of the windows. A window surround shown in Razina et al has four wooden columns actually stretching over the space where the actual window would have been, and the year “ 1884” denoted on its lower panel. Another portion of a nalichnik, consisting of two facing roosters, has the date “1894” carved into it. Please note, however, that not all izba windows had nalichniki, while others had minor nalichniki decorations only. As mentioned above, the Marquis de Custine noted that some of the izbas he saw had painted exterior carvings—these could have been painted prichelini, polotentsa, nalichniki, or other decorations (Bartenev 1972: 264-265, 270-271; Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989:27-34, 50-53, 69, 82; Razina et al 1990:80, 81; Anonymous 2005: 520; Custine 1989: 453).

The log buildings of a Northern European Russian village often appear as if one single carpenter made them all. This is because there was a set traditional log-building template in place. Logs of certain lengths and corresponding set thicknesses would be required for particular purposes within the architecture of the village (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 32-41). Corner-jointing in traditional Russian wooden buildings could be of the simplest form, that known as v oblo. In this style, the logs would project past the actual wall line intersecting them. Another style, regarded as having more elegance and referred to as v lapu, held the log ends flush to the walls. This is also known as «dove-tailing” (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 37; 41).

Defense Architectural Behaviors

The Marquis de Custine remarks that every Russian town had its own fort or kremlin (Custine 1989: 508). The Russian term ostrog is often used for traditional Russian wooden forts. An interesting thing about Russian wooden fortifications is that—no matter where they were placed around the vastness of European / Siberian Russia—they all were built with the same basic fort-building template.

Examples of how traditional the construction of a Russian wooden fortification could be is seen in the defensive towers of the fort. These «watch-towers” (vezhi / bashnya) were designed to help keep an eye out for the long or near approach of an enemy, and—of course—to provide defensive advantages when the enemy attacked. Vezhi were the earliest forms and could be free-standing within / outside the stockade walls, while bashnya were their evolved successors incorporated into the walls. However, both types could exist side-by-side—an example of this was seen at the original ostrog of Irkutsk, founded in 1661 (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 122, 126). Over time these watch-towers became a patriotic symbol to Russians; the earliest examples go back to at least 1159 AD. (Opolovnikov and Opolovnikova 1989: 84, 89, 103; 107, 109, 115, 119, 121, 125, 127-131, 137).

Dressing and Hair / Beard-Wearing Behaviors

A distinctively Russian appearance for both men and women is suggested from various historical sources. Beards apparently were a cultural prerequisite to the male dress code, as was the caftan (referred to by Custine as “cafetan”), sash, pantaloons, large leather boots, over-hanging shirt, touloupe (or sheepskin coat), and wide-rimmed / round hat. “Long winter felt boots”, or valenki, were also in the clothing inventory of peasants during the reign of Nicholas II—a photo of a peasant wearing this type of footwear is shown in FitzLyon and Browning (1978: 124). The touloupe was described by Custine as being, to the peasant wearing it, his clothing, bed, carpet, and tent (Custine 1989: 99-100, 325, 379-380, 526; Pallas, Johnston, and Miller 1990: 190, 222-223; Gautier 1881: 66-67; Katzner 1984: 841; Cochrane 1970: 75). Women might well wear a povoinik, kokoshnik, or kika, or a scarf, as headwear; a tunic type of dress with a chest high waist, and a longer dress underneath (Gautier 1881: 79-80; Razina et al. 1990:35). The kokoshnik preceded the povoinik as a headdress type in the Arkhangelsk, Vologda, and Vyatka areas (Anonymous 2007: 14). A richly decorative merchants' wives headdress worn in the summertime is shown in Pallas, Johnston, and Miller; the Winter version, which is very similar, is also shown (Pallas Johnston and Miller 1990: 81-83, 192-193; Razina et al 1990: 35; Gautier 1881: 79-80; Custine 1989: 124, 165; 327, 367, 526; FitzLyon and Browning 1978: 132).

The wearing of the hair and beard was also very important. The male peasants seen by Custine at a village tavern outside of St. Petersburg had long hair which was parted “on the forehead”, and which—as the usual haircut—was “shaved close behind rather higher than the nape, so as to discover all the strength of the neck...» (1989: 326). A typical way to cut a peasant boy's hair was termed pod kruzhok, or under a bowl which was placed on top of his head. Any hair sticking out from under the bowl would be trimmed off (Kanatchikov 1983: 39). A photograph in FitzLyon and Browning (1978: 125) of the meeting of a mir, or village council, provides an idea of what this type of haircut looked like. One of the most important personal appearance attributes for men in Russia was the beard. We are informed that having a beard was considered a sign of being a loyal Russian: The people of this country have an aversion for every thing that is not Russian. I often hear it repeated, that they will some day rise from one

end of the empire to the other upon the men without a beard, and destroy them all. It is by the beard that the Russians know each other. In the eyes of the peasants, a Russian with a shaved chin is a traitor, who has sold himself to foreigners, and who deserves to share their fate (Custine 1989: 547).

Other Behavioral Categories

Other behavioral categories investigated for traditional Russian traits, and selected behaviors within each, are as follows:

Eating Behaviors

(for Recreational Eating, See Recreational Behaviors) Cabbage Soup (Volokh 1983: 103; Gautier 1881: 294); Mushrooms (FitzLyon and Browning 1978: 93; Volokh 1983: 377-378; Marie 1931: 28); Iukoshko (FitzLyon and Browning 1978: 93); Struganini (Kennan 1970: 286); Zakuski “Ceremony” (Volokh 1983: 10-11); Caviar («... Russian cuisine's claim to fame”; Volokh 1983: 14); Piroghi / Pirozhki (Volokh 1983: 118), and Blini / Butterweek (Volokh 1983: 462, 463). The zakuski stage of a meal, which is the beginning element, is considered to be one of two traditional “food ceremonies” in Russia, both of which go back centuries. (The other is tea-drinking; see below). Volokh (1983: 10) puts it this way: “But the masterpiece of Russian cuisine is the zakuski, or hors d'oeuvre, ceremony. Limited to the role of an overture in other cuisines, zakuski are the equivalent of a whole first movement in a formal Russian dinner”.

Household Behaviors

Curved-Sided / Rimmed-Topped Ceramics (Volokh 1983: 4); Distinctive Stoves (Volokh 1983: 4; Robinson 1960: 118-119); and Birch Bark Vessels (Razina et al 1990: 29). Traditional Russian cooking vessels were made of clay and had two distinctive features for practicality of use in the Russian stove—curved sides and rimmed tops. The latter allowed the cook to move them around within the stove via long, wood-handled tongs, while having curved sides meant that the maximum area possible was exposed to the cooking energy of the stove (Volokh 1983: 4). A traditional Russian stove will typically be large and fill up the space of one entire wall in the izba's kitchen. It can be made of either bricks or clay, and does not use cooking burners, instead employing an oven somewhat off the floor (Volokh 1983: 4). Concerning birch bark vessels—birch bark was a resource used in Russia from ancient times. Lidded containers made of birch bark, having stamped or painted designs, might be found in a peasant's izba and used to hold milk, groats, flour, and sour cream (Razina et al 1990: 29).

Personal Hygiene Behaviors

Steam Bath (Pallas, Johnston, and Miller 1990: 148-149, 190, 222; Custine 1989: 327, 476-477; Gautier 1881: 67, 249-250; Kennan 1970: 103-105; Anonymous 2005: 518; Volokh 1983: 595). An interesting note discovered about the use of the traditional Russian steam bath is that kvass, a traditional Russian fermented beverage, was sometimes thrown onto the hot rocks of the steam bath to create “an enriched, soft, fragrant steam smelling of fresh bread...» (Volokh 1983: 595).

Punctuality Behaviors

Timeliness is portrayed as a “Russian virtue” (Gautier 1881: 124).

Recreational Behaviors

Tea Drinking (Volokh 1983: 2-3, 10, 576, 577-578; Custine 1989: 156-157, 325-326, 500, 510, 517; Marie 1931: 14-15; Barry 1986: 7, 8; Kennan 1970: 280, 284, 286, 290; Paulson and Paulson 1980: 95; Gautier 1881: 123, 260, 295; Johnson 1907: 111, 117); Samovar (Volokh 1983: 5, 10, 118, 576, 577, 578; Paulson and Paulson 1980: 95; Ivanova 1976: Item 14; Item 84; Barry 1986: 4-7, 11-17, 19, 22, 23, 26; Gautier 1881: 286; Naughton 1978: 6; Custine 1989: 156-157; 461; Johnson 1907: 166-167); Balalaika (Cochrane 1970: 93; Kennan 1970: 285; Custine 1989: 156-157); Kvass (Volokh 1983: 595; Gautier 1881: 130); Kvass Serving Pitcher (Razina et al 1990: 55, 60, 61, 89, 90); Vodka (Volokh 1983: 10-11, 13, 583, 584; Johnson 1907: 168); “Russian Mountains” (Gautier 1881: 107-108; Dilliplane 2007); and the “Flying Mountain” (Pallas, Johnston, and Miller 1990: 190-191).

Religious Behaviors

Three-Barred Cross (Paulson and Paulson 1980: 49); and the Icon (Paulson and Paulson 1980: 35).

Social Behaviors

Vehicular Transoportation Behaviors

Duga (Katzner 1984: 505; FitzLyon and Browning 1978: 119, 122; Orlovsky 2007a); Droschky (Gautier 1881: 82; Custine 1989: 100-101, 156-157, 476; Orlovsky 2007b); Sledge (or sleigh) (Custine 1989: 548; Gautier 1881: 90; Pallas, Johnston, and Miller 1990: 26; Johnson 1907: 140); Sledge Bell (Katzner 1984: 32; FitzLyon and Browning 1978: 122), and the Troika (Gautier 1881: 98-99; Custine 1989: 156-157). Gautier tells us that a small, light type of carriage he saw in St. Petersburg was quintessentially Russian: “The droschky, or drojky, as they spell it in Russian, is, par excellence, the national vehicle; there is nothing like it in any other country, and it merits particular description” (Gautier 1881: 82; emphasis mine). Along with the izba, the Russian sledge is given by Custine as being a fundamental element of Russian culture (1989: 548). On seeing the first winter sledge following his arrival in St. Petersburg, Gautier (1881: 90; my emphasis) writes: “Never since my arrival in St. Petersburg had I felt so distinctly that it was Russia; it was like a sudden revelation, and a crowd of things, which till then had remained obscure, suddenly became clear to me”. An excellent view of a Russian sledge during the 1890s is provided in a photograph in FitzLyon and Browning (1978: 122)—the compactness of the vehicle is noteworthy. A close look at the bottom of the sledge, immediately above the runner, reveals a very small, metallic-looking object which may be a sledge bell. With regard to the troika, a Russian sledge might have one, two, or three horses pulling it—if three horses, it is called a troika. Gautier (1881: 98-99; my emphasis) relates that «...the height of style is the troika, a vehicle eminently Russian, full of local color, and very picturesque”.

Walking / Non-Walking Behaviors Woodworking Behaviors

Axe (Custine 1989: 380, 500, 501). A Russian's ability with the axe was not missed by Custine:

He never goes out without his small hatchet, which is useful for a hundred purposes in the hands of a dexterous man in a country which is

not yet in want of woods. With a Russian by your side, were you to

lose yourself in a forest, you would in a very few hours have a house

to pass the night in, perhaps more commodious, and assuredly more

clean, than the houses of the old villages (1989: 380).

Because Custine later points out that a Russian feels comfortable in any snowy climate provided he can build a “cabin” (izba) and a sledge (1989: 548), thus pointing to the significance of those things to the Russian culture, the axe—by implication—takes on the same importance.

Concluding Remarks

This initial research has uncovered a long list of traditional cultural behaviors associated with life in Russia during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is anticipated that more will be added as the project continues. These behaviors will serve as the comparative database for the remainder of the project.

Phase II of the work will now begin, and will consist of detailed studies of daily life in both New Archangel and Kolmakovskiy Redoubt. Specifically, a review of historical documentation, all available oral histories, and archaeological data concerning these two colonies will initially take place for information relating to the (a) identification and (b) change / retention of traditional Russian behaviors noted in the database. Once this has been completed, the next step will be to compare information concerning traditional Russian behaviors derived from the general database, site documentary, site oral history, and site archaeological sources. An effort will then be made to explain inconsistencies concerning these behaviors noted between the general database and all other references.

Finally, a statement of conclusions will be given, and an effort will be made to explain them. Potential explanations will be sought through a review of pertinent historical circumstances, any similar inquiries concerning the colonies of other nations, and applicable theoretical perspectives.

It is hoped that this overall research effort will result in meaningful contributions both to our understanding of the interrelationship of culture and isolation, and to the intriguing and colorful phenomenon that was Russian America.





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Материалы III Международной научной конференции 
«Русская Америка» (Иркутск, 8–12 августа 2007 г.) 


Предоставлена архитектурно-этнографическим музеем Тальцы