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Printing and Social Control in Russia 2: Decrees

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On 16 March 1714 Peter I issued a decree on the printing of decrees. Previously all decrees (ukazy), and indeed almost all legislative texts apart from the 1649 law code (Ulozhenie) of Aleksei Mikhailovich, had been issued in manuscript and disseminated through hand-written copies and oral proclamation. Peter's decree on the use of print was a landmark in the administrative uses of printing in Russia. It was intended as such by Peter, and perceived as such by his successors. The continued success of this initiative is contrasted with the repeated failure of other projects for the systematic use of printing in legislation: the attempts to produce a new systematic code, and to publish regular chronological compilations of laws. This article considers the context, implications, and consequences of Peter's innovative ruling. The main questions under consideration are: why had printing not been used for these purposes earlier? what specific functions was the technology called upon to fulfil? and what were its relations with other technologies? Particular attention is paid to the perceived and actual roles of printing as an aid to (i) distribution, (ii) standardization, and (iii) the emblematic projection of authority. In each case, printing is considered not in isolation, but in its relations with the uses of manuscript and speech. A final section considers some ways in which Peter's instruction was followed or adapted by his 18th-century successors.


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