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Printing and Social Control in Russia 1: Passports

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image of Russian History

Studies of the history of print in Russia tend to focus on the printing of books, and to a lesser extent pictures. However, the implications of the spread of information technologies extend beyond their cultural uses. In particular, the adoption of printing (like the spread of writing before it, and the spread of electronic and digital technologies in recent decades) has potential implications for administration and social control. This study – the first in a series on related themes – considers the introduction and uses of print in one category of document, the passport, in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The main sources are legislative. The printing of passports was not just an administrative practice but a legislative issue and a recurrent problem. The use of print for specified types of passport was first decreed in 1726, as an anti-forgery measure, but successive revisions and modifications of the legislation show that precisely the feature which made print attractive as a device to combat fraud - centralised State control of the means of production - also created logistical difficulties which could obstruct the effective operations of the passport system itself. The final section of the survey is comparative, setting Russia's practices and preoccupations in the printing of passports in a wider European and American context, in order to identify what may have been distinctive to Russia.


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