Klyuchevsky, Vasily Osipovich

views updated Jun 11 2018


(18411911), celebrated Russian historian.

Vasily Klyuchevsky was born to the family of a priest of Penza province. In 1865 he graduated from the Moscow University (Historical-Philological Department). In 1872 he earned a master's degree and in 1882 a doctorate. In 1879 he became associate professor, and in 1882 professor, of Russian history at Moscow University. He was named corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1889 and academician of history and Russian antiquities in 1900. Klyuchevsky was connected with government and church circles. From 1893 to 1895 he taught history to Grand Duke Georgy, son of Alexander II. In 1905 he took part in a conference organized by Nicholas II on the new press regulations and also participated in conferences on designing the state Duma. He was the holder of many decorations and in 1903 was given the rank of Privy Councilor. After legalization of political parties in October 1905, Klyuchevsky ran for election to the First State Duma on the Constitutional Democratic ticket, but lost.

Klyuchevsky was a pupil and follower of Sergei Solovev and his successor in the Department of Russian History at Moscow University. His main works are: (1) Drevne-russkie zhitiya sviatykh kak istorichesky istochnik (The Old Russian Hagiography as a Historical Source ), published in 1872, in which he proved that hagiography did not contain reliable historical facts; (2) Boiarskaya Duma drevnei Rusi (The Boyar Duma of Old Russia ), published in 1882, in which he studied the history of the most important government institution in pre-Petrine Russia; (3) Proiskhozhdenie krepostnogo prava v Rossii (The Genesis of Serfdom in Russia ), published in 1885, in which he suggested a new conception of the origin of serfdom according to which serfdom was engendered by peasants' debts to landowners and developed on the basis of private-legal relations, the state only legalizing it; (4) Podushnaya podat i otmena kholopstva v Rossii (Poll-Tax and the Abolition of Bond Slavery in Russia ), published in 1885, in which he showed that a purely financial reform had serious socio-economic consequences; and (5) Sostav predstavitelstva na zemskikh soborakh drevnei Rusi (The Composition of Representatives at Assemblies of the Land in Old Russia ), published in 1892, in which he substantiated the point of view that the assemblies were not representative institutions. Klyuchevsky prepared a number of special courses on source study, historiography of the eighteenth century, methodology, and terminology and wrote many articles on the history of Russian culture.

Starting in 1879 Klyuchevsky taught a general course on Russian history from the ancient times to the Great Reforms of the 1860s and 1870s. This course is regarded as a summation of his research findings and interpretations. Klyuchevsky believed that world history developed in accordance with certain objective regularities, "peoples consecutively replacing one another as successive moments of civilization, as phases of the development of humankind," and that in the history of an individual country these regularities play out under the influence of particular local conditions. He analyzed Russian history through three principal categories: the individual, society, and environment. In his opinion, these elements determined the process of a country's historical development. The objective of his course was to discover the "secret" of Russian history: to assess what had been done and what had to be done to put the developing Russian society into the first rank of European nations. In his opinion, a student who mastered his course should become "a citizen who acts consciously and conscientiously," capable of rectifying the shortcomings of the social system of Russia.

Klyuchevsky was a positivist and tried to attain positive scientific knowledge in his course. However, from the point of view of his admirers, the most valuable and attractive feature of his course consisted in his artistic descriptions of historical events and phenomena, replete with vivid images and everyday scenes of the past; his original analysis of sources and psychological analysis of historical figures; and his skeptical and liberal judgments and evaluationsin other words, in his figurative and intuitive comprehension and artistic representations of the past. He spoke ironically of the shortcomings of the social system, social institutions, manners, and customs, and censured the faults of tsars and statesmen. All these qualities attracted crowds of students who understood his ideas of the past as comments on current conditions. His course exhibited such mastery of literary style that in 1908 he was named an honorary member of Russian Academy of Sciences in belles lettres.

At the Moscow University Klyuchevsky created his own school, which prepared such prominent historians as Alexander Kizevetter, Matvei Lyubavskii, Yuri Got'e, Pavel Milyukov, and others. Klyuchevsky's works continue to enjoy popularity and to influence historiography in Russia to this day.

See also: education; historiography; universities


Byrnes, Robert F. (1995). V. O. Kliuchevskii: Historian of Russia. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Kliuchevskii, V. O. (1960). A History of Russia, tr. C. J. Hogarth. New York: Russell and Russell.

Kliuchevskii, V. O. (1961). Peter the Great, tr. Liliana Archibald. New York: Vintage.

Kliuchevskii, V. O. (1968). Course in Russian History: The Seventeenth Century, tr. Natalie Duddington. Chigago: Quadrangle Books.

Boris N. Mironov

Vasily Osipovich Klyuchevsky

views updated Jun 27 2018

Vasily Osipovich Klyuchevsky

The Russian historian Vasily Osipovich Klyuchevsky (1841-1911) explored the socioeconomic fundament of Russian cultural and political development; his writings have become the basis of modern Russian historiography.

Vasily Klyuchevsky was born in January 1841, the son of a rural Orthodox priest. Having decided against a career in the Church, he completed the undergraduate degree of the historical-philological faculty of Moscow University in 1865. In 1872 he received his master's degree, defending a thesis on the lives of the saints as historical sources; in 1882 he received his doctorate. He began his teaching career in 1867, and in 1879 he was invited to teach at his alma mater, where in 1882 he became professor of history. In 1900 Klyuchevsky was elevated to academician of Russian history and antiquities in the august Imperial Academy of Sciences.

Klyuchevsky was nurtured intellectually in the heady political and philosophical atmosphere of the Russian 1860s. In the period of the 1905 revolution, he was close to the moderate wing of the Kadet party and ran unsuccessfully for election to the State Duma. But he was a scholar, not a politician, though not immune to the political currents of his day. Within a year of his undergraduate degree he published a significant monograph on the testimony of foreigners about the Muscovite state, in 1885 a study of the origins of serfdom in Russia, in 1887 a history of Russian social classes, in 1896 a study of Empress Catherine II, and in 1901 a monograph on Peter the Great and his advisers.

The greatest achievement of Klyuchevsky was his broadly analytical Kurs russkoi istorii (1903; Course of Russian History), which was based on his popular lectures and covered the history of Russia from ancient times to the 19th century. Klyuchevsky differed from the so-called statist school of the earlier tradition in Russian historical scholarship, which included B. N. Chicherin and S. M. Solovev. The statists granted great significance to the role of the autocratic and imperial state in shaping Russian development, while Klyuchevsky shifted focus from the state to social, economic, and environmental factors. He was particularly attentive to questions of geography, peasant migration, and the social composition of institutions. He looked beyond the reign of specific czars and emperors, beyond the traditional political and military dramas that held the center of attention in earlier Russian histories. His study of the boyar Duma, the subject of his doctoral thesis, is in fact an essay on the history of the sociopolitical development of Russia from the earliest times to the 18th century.

Klyuchevsky was a brilliant lecturer and a consummate stylist of historical prose. His influence can be seen in the work of his most outstanding students, A. A. Kizevetter and M. K. Lyubavsky.

Further Reading

Klyuchevsky's Kurs russkoi istorii was translated by C. J. Hogarth (5 vols., 1911-1931); the translation is faulty and misleading. Liliana Archibald retranslated volume 4 of the Kurs as Peter the Great (1958) and volume 3 as The Rise of the Romanovs (1970). Biographies of Klyuchevsky are in Anatole G. Mazour, Modern Russian Historiography (1939; 2d ed. 1958), and Bernadotte E. Schmitt, ed., Some Historians of Modern Europe: Essays in Historiography (1942). □