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What is Prosveshchenie? Nikolai Novikov's Historical Dictionary of Russian Writers Revisited

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Scholars have long regarded Nikolai Novikov's Historical Dictionary of Russian Writers as an essential source for eighteenth-century Russia's literary and intellectual life. Beyond providing valuable information on hundreds of authors, the Dictionary also clarifies the meaning of enlightenment (prosveshchenie) for Novikov and his generation. This article examines the Dictionary's application and understanding of prosveshchenie in the broad context of Russian intellectual history. For Novikov, prosveshchenie bore little similarity to the skeptical and critical spirit of the European Enlightenment. Instead, it represented an unusual combination of religious piety, erudition, and commitment to the spread of learning—the same ideals Novikov would promote as a Freemason and pass on to the nineteenth-century intelligentsia.


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