UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Dearth, Disorder, and Drunkenness in Imperial Russia

07 March 2022, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

An old print about the harmful effects of drinking alcohol

A UCL SSEES Russian Studies Seminar with Professor Alison Smith, University of Toronto

This event is free.

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While recent scholarship has challenged the idea that Russians were and are significantly more inclined to drunkenness than were people of other nationalities, they nonetheless did get drunk, and regularly, too. Drunkenness was not confined to a single social status, or even to a single people within the multi-ethnic Russian Empire. Looking at drunkenness (and sobriety) closely, therefore, lays bare many of the structures of tsarist society, economy, and governance as they changed and in some cases stayed remarkably the same from the end of the seventeenth to the beginning of the twentieth century. In particular, it highlights three major issues. First, drunkenness was linked to the threat of poverty in two contradictory ways. Drunkenness, it was feared, was impoverishing the Russian peasant. But drunkenness was also key to the Russian state’s financial well-being, as it consistently relied on income from alcohol taxes to support itself. Second, drunkenness was linked to the threat of disorder, linked as it was to crime, to domestic violence, and to the military — supposedly the bringer of order. And third, drunkenness was seen as a threat to the self. If uncontrolled, it was at best a shameful vice, at worst a possible spur to self-harm or even suicide.

Note: This event will take place in person on UCL campus. Should circumstances change, ticket holders will be notified in advance.

Image credit: https://primo.nlr.ru/ Public domain