Community Within a Divided Country

In 1861, Tsar Alexander II, Alexander the Liberator, had liberated the serfdom population of Russia. The once reigning feudal system had come to a halt and was replaced with the idea of equality. However, serfdom reform was not about a moral obligation but rather political gain. Alexander justifies his decision with a blunt statement, “It is better to begin abolishing serfdom from above than to wait for it to begin to abolish itself from below” (203).

Now free, the former serfs found themselves asking the redundant question, now what? Russia remained an agrarian state for their industrial revolution hadn’t quite peaked and was primarily found in largely populated areas, cities. While the peasantry, typically remained in a rural setting, they continued a life of sustained living and farm work.

In 1909, traveling the Russian countryside, photographer Sergia Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii brought color to a communal farming ground north of the city Cherepovets. A photograph titled Haying Near the Resting Place, most likely depicts former serfdom families working together to harvest hay for communal usage.

Setting the geographic scene for this photograph is challenging being that an exact location is unknown. However, it is believed to be photographed near the city Cherepovets, in Vologda Oblast, Russia. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), currently the exportation of wheat constitutes 15% of Russian exports. Wheat during the early 20th century was largely produced for its contribution to diet and for the production of hay.As depicted, the working individuals are in the process of “haying”, which is the process of harvesting dried grains or grasses (oat, barley, and wheat) to make hay. This activity took place in the autumn seasons, which provided favorable climate for the workers as well as the crop.

Just at a quick glance, the picture depicts a diversified workforce in terms of gender and age. Men, women and children are all pictured in this photo and are doing their part in order to complete the task at hand. A sense of community is conveyed within this photo, a rare sight in what is at the time a divided Russian state.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. New York: Oxford University Press         Inc., 2009), 203.

Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergia Mikhailovich, photographer. “[Haying Near the Resting Place.]” Photograph. Washington D.C.: From Library of Congress: The Empire that was Russia, 1909-1915. (accessed January 20, 2018).

Trueman, C.N. “Russia and Agriculture.” History Learning Site. March 5, 2015. Accessed January 20, 2018.

Nafziger, Steven. “Russian Serfdom, Emancipation, and Land Equality: New Evidence.” Department of Economics, Williams College 24-25, (May 2013): accessed January 20, 2018.

Dennison, Tracy and Steven Nafziger. “Micro-Perspectives on 19th-century Russian Living Standards.” Williams College 1-50, (November 2007): accessed January 20, 2018.


4 thoughts on “Community Within a Divided Country

  1. Serfdom was one of the biggest symbols of absolutism and backwardness in Russia. The emancipation of serfs led to a big “what now” moment, not just for former serfs (as you mentioned), but for the Russian government as well. While liberation meant a lot, little was done with it. Good job on the post.


  2. I like that you noted the diversity in the labor force especially in prerevolutionary times! I think it shows a fundamental difference between how the west and east viewed the role of women in labor forces. I also find their style of dress so interesting. Men, women, and children aided in manual labor and did so in bright colored, and what appears to be nice clothes.


  3. Great photo, I enjoyed how you ending your blog post, with an ominous twist of community yet division within Russia. I am glad you included the historical context of what was going on in Russia as well as your photo. I think including the background knowledge greatly emphases the importance of your work and the image.


  4. I really like this photo because it shows the non-industrialized side of Russia. I like the history of the serfdom freedom in Russia and that’s what is depicted in the photograph. It is interesting to see familial generations participating in haying and everyone is doing their specialized jobs.


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