University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Department of Geography - main Departmental seminar series > "Miracles" on a Geographical Map': Geodetic Utopias and Cartographic Realism in the Soviet Union, 1920-1938

"Miracles" on a Geographical Map': Geodetic Utopias and Cartographic Realism in the Soviet Union, 1920-1938

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After 1917, the new Soviet leadership attributed an unprecedented importance to space as a factor which could make or break the new post-revolutionary state, and correspondingly to the role of spatial knowledge, planning and representation in the project of constructing socialism within Russia and, ultimately, across the borderless expanse of a single global polity. Firstly, the Bolshevik regime understood the power of cartography to affirm and propagate the ‘world-view’ and corresponding spatial visions in which it grounded its claims to legitimacy. Maps were to serve propaganda purposes: Walter Benjamin visiting Moscow in the winter of 1926 remarked that “the map is almost as close to becoming the centre of the new Russian iconic cult as Lenin’s portrait”. Secondly, the party and government leaderships recognized the crucial role that accurate spatial data played in the practical tasks of state-building and economic development. Maps were also to serve utilitarian purposes. As a consequence of its dual function, Soviet cartography bifurcated into two spheres: one concerned with spatial ‘myth-making’, the other with constructing a ‘scientific’ account of space. This paper explores the tensions which this duality produced within Soviet cartographic policy-making and practice during the 1920s and 1930s, and its fatal consequences for the civilian cartographic establishment during the 1937-38 ‘Great Terror’.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - main Departmental seminar series series.

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