The 1917 Russian Revolution, version 1.0

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Postcard showing a funeral procession for the February Revolution dead, on Nevsky Prospect. From the Catherine Cooke Collection.

One hundred years ago, Russia was in the grip of the February Revolution.  By the Revolution’s end, the Tsar and his government had been overthrown.  1917 had now seen the unthinkable happen, as hundreds of years of tsarist rule were overturned.  Yet this was just the beginning of a world-changing year.

First, a pedant’s note about months.  Many readers will know that the February and October Revolutions refer to the Julian calendar, and are what we usually refer to as dates in the “Old Style”.  In the Gregorian calendar (whose dates are “New Style”), the February Revolution took place in March and the October Revolution in November.  The names have, however, always stuck.  The Soviets formally adopted the Gregorian calendar in early 1918 but the Fevral’skaia revoliutsiia and Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia remained untouched.

While we normally write in this blog about books held by Cambridge, and while 1917-related UL material will certainly be studied in future posts, today’s post celebrates instead a freely available online initiative set up to mark the Russian centenary, the fascinating site 1917: svobodnaia istoriia (1917: free history):  Designed specifically for a modern audience accustomed to real-time updates, the site covers the events of one hundred years ago, “as described by those involved … [using] only diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other documents.”  Illustrated with photos, art, and newsreel footage from the time, 1917: svobodnaia istoriia is absolutely captivating and terrifyingly good at bringing extremely turbulent times to life.

The pop-up window that greets the user alerts you to what is happening “priamo seichas” (right now).  At the time of writing, the headlines are that government troops have disappeared, that policemen are being killed throughout Saint Petersburg, and that the revolutionaries have taken control of the railways.  The site allows the user to browse by date, specific events/subjects, and by people, groups, and news titles (each of whom/which has their own facebook-style page).  These main characters range from cultural figures such as the writer Anna Akhmatova and singer Fedor Shaliapin to political ones like Lenin.  Amongst them are representatives from further afield – Arthur Conan Doyle and George the Fifth among them.  You can also use an interactive family tree of the Romanovs, organised either by strict family order or by attitude to one another (feelings ranging from love to hatred).

The site is a remarkable production, and I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in Russian history.  A full English-language version also exists (albeit without the breaking news pop-up) at

My thanks to the Recent Russian News facebook group, which is run by the Department of Slavonic Studies to make occasional, excellent suggestions to their students of interesting and accessible Russian-language sources, who first brought the site to my attention.  Facebook users can follow them at

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A postcard showing the funeral and shared grave in the Field of Mars for the dead of the February Revolution.  From the Catherine Cooke Collection.

Mel Bach

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