Uvarov, Sergei Semenovich

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(1786-1855), minister of education (18331849) and Academy of Sciences president (18181855).

Sergei Uvarov was the longest-tenured and most influential minister of education and Academy of Sciences president in Imperial Russian history. From 1810 to 1821, he also served as superintendent of the St. Petersburg Educational District. Indeed, Uvarov spent his entire life involved with the arts and sciences. He published poetry in his teens; actively participated in the literary quarrels of his day; authored two dozen essays on literary and historical topics; and in retirement, completed the work for a doctorate in classical studies.

As a statesman, from the 1810s Uvarov acted upon a certainty that Russia was in its youth and developing into a West European-style nation. He was determined, however, that the process of maturation would occur without European-style revolutions and that the educational system would provide the map for following this special path. He gave his system a slogan, "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality" (Pravoslavie, Samoderzhavie, Narodnost ). This tripartite formula offered a simple, accessible, patriotic affirmation of native values and an anti-dote against revolutionary ideas. Devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church would offset modern materialism. Autocracy would provide stability with patriarchal but progressive tsarist leadership. The concept of nationality promoted an indigenous attempt to answer the problems of modern development, a quest, though, that was to be defined and guided by the state, not the narod, or people.

Uvarov believed that raising the Russian educational system to a level of excellence was the sine qua non for the empire's progress toward maturity. He transformed the Academy of Sciences from a shambles into a world-renowned center of learning. Uvarov created two first-rate universities, St. Petersburg (1819) and St. Vladimir's (1833) and brought the others to a golden age. He reformed the gymnasia by introducing the classical curriculum and the study of Russian grammar, history, and literature. He patronized a new emphasis on technology and science in education, and he over-saw the birth of Oriental, Slavic, classical, and philological studies. For these accomplishments, he received the title of count in 1846.

While Uvarov's accomplishments are notable, his reputation suffered during his lifetime because of his personal traits, such as greed and arrogance, and his autocratic handling of his ministry, especially in the area of censorship. Historians have tended to dismiss Uvarov as a liberal during the reign of Alexander I and a reactionary during the time of Nicholas, ascribing this to his groveling before the powers-that-be. This interpretation is gainsaid by the fact that he resigned twice, in 1821 and 1849, when tsarist policy turned reactionary and threatened the aim of educational excellence to which he had dedicated his life.

See also: education; universities


Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (1959). Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 18251855. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Whittaker, Cynthia H. (1984). The Origins of Modern Russian Education: An Intellectual Biography of Count Sergei Uvarov, 17861855. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Cynthia Hyla Whittaker