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Why Did Muscovy Not Participate in the “Communication Revolution” in the Sixteenth Century?

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Causes and Effects

image of Canadian-American Slavic Studies

The sixteenth century in Europe has been called the period of the “Communication Revolution.” Was Muscovy a participant in this revolution? Though the first printed books appeared in Russia in the mid-sixteenth century, just half a century before the printing boom in Europe, the only correct answer to this question can be “no.” In Russia there was nothing like the preparatory epistolary stage of a Communication Revolution. There were nothing like European “merchants’ letters” or aristocrats’ correspondence. One can hardly even find any “news” narratives describing “the other,” i.e. other countries and nations. Descriptions of manners, customs, the history of neighboring countries, as well as political news were only included in diplomatic documents. The politics of the Russian state was monolithic and unified, lacking political pluralism and freedom of speech, diverse political discourse, and political partisanship typical of Europe. Because of this, Muscovite society did not need political information, because all the necessary information came from the government. The information structures that bound together Russian society were formed around the church in the first place and then the state. Printing was in great demand by the church and state, to be sure, and during the first 150 years after its introduction in Russia, printing in Russia served the interests of church and state almost exclusively. The main reason for the delayed Communication Revolution in Russia was the lack of public demand for information. Apparently, the reason for this attitude was not the technological backwardness of Russia: there had not been any technological obstacles for the formation of a Communication Revolution in Russia since the late sixteenth century. The problem was rather that there was no broad market for print material. The Communication Revolution could be the means of social, political and cultural modernization in Russia (as it had been in Europe). But it came to Russia too late, only in the eighteenth and ninteenth centuries.

Affiliations: 1: Saint Petersburg State University, Russia


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