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British perception and reception of Russian culture, 18th-20th centuries

'The common dance of the Russian peasant' (plate in 'The character of the Russians' by Robert Lyall, published 1823; classmarks Kk.2.33 and Harley-Mason.b.69)

The fifth Fitzwilliam Colloquium in Russian Studies took place over three days at the end of August and beginning of September. Twenty-seven fascinating papers looked at the overall theme from a variety of angles and covered a wide range of areas including literature, art, music, exhibitions, and religion.

As the papers demonstrated, there are a large number of resources for research into the theme of one country's perception and reception of another country's culture. Below are a few pointers, for which I'll use examples relating not only to the theme of the colloquium but also to its reverse - Russia's perception and reception of British culture.

Firstly, there are a couple of overall subject keywords for the area: influence(s) and appreciation. The former is used in subject headings on a particular subject to show that the item concerns specifically the influence of one nation on another's cultural produce. There is rather more in the Library about western influence on Russia than the other way around, so an example of the standard set-up is Russian literature - English influences. A general keyword search for the term Russian influences (in speechmarks to ensure that the words are placed together in the search) gets around the fact that the term never starts the subject heading string but comes later. It results in over 70 results, but these are not restricted to Russian influences on British culture specifically.

To look for items about the influence of a major body, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, the authorised subject heading of the body (in this case, Russkaia pravoslavnaia tserkov') can be followed by the term Influence. In the case of the Russian Orthodox Church, its authorised heading can also be followed by the term Relations followed by the name of another Christian church, e.g. Church of England.

The term appreciation is found in subject heading strings along the lines of Russian literature - Appreciation - Great Britain. A general point here: the subject heading terms Great Britain and British stand for the whole of the United Kingdom, whereas England and English stand for England alone. It's not always clear for cataloguers which to go for, so it can be useful to use both variants in searches.

Many of the papers given at the colloquium referred to contemporary reviews of the Russian arts. The Library's news services and newspapers page provides quick links to current resources and archives. Many of the archives are fully text-searchable. For example, the results of a search for Bunin in the Times Literary Supplement Centenary Archive include a 1922 review of the French translation of Ivan Bunin's 'Gentleman from San Francisco'. As the reviewer writes, the translation "is, we believe, the first opportunity given to those who do not read Russian to appreciate the work of a writer whose fame has reached them hitherto by report alone".

Readers also have access to several Russian archives, including the searchable Pravda Digital Archive. A search for angliiskoe kino (English cinema), for example, specifying that the two words should be near one another within the text, produces among others a 1952 article called krizis angliiskoi kinopromyshlennosti (= The crisis of the English film industry), which talks about the overshadowing of English film-making by Hollywood and its continuing metamorphosis into a "weapon of reactionary propaganda".

Another type of contemporary source which was often mentioned at the colloquium was works by visitors to Russia. For actual travel accounts, there is a specific subject heading, following the form [Name of country or city] - Description and travel. A subject search for Russia - Description and travel produces over 200 results for that heading as it stands, with a list of more specific headings below (for early works to 1800, for example).

The Library of Congress definition for use of the subject subdivision Description and travel is "for descriptive works and accounts of travel, including the history of travel" ('Subject headings manual' (2008 ed.), vol. 3, H1530, p. 1). This means that the works of some author-visitors to Russia mentioned in the colloquium are not given this type of subject heading, if their works are more specific than the definition about. Robert Lyall's works on Russia (from one of which the illustration is taken), for example, have got subject headings such as National characteristics, Russian.

This colloquium and its four predecessors were organised by Professor Anthony Cross, Emeritus Professor of the Department of Slavonic Studies. Books by Professor Cross can be found under the authorised Library of Congress heading of his name (Cross, Anthony Glenn). The majority of these books are in the Russian history section, with 586:6 (18th century) the most common classmark. Professor Cross' paper at the symposium was about William Henry Leeds, the 19th-century critic and journalist primarily known for his architectural reviews. The paper concentrated on Leeds' other, and often overlooked, area of work - Russian literature. The Library has got 4 books by Leeds (the authorised form of his name is Leeds, W. H. (William Henry), 1786-1866), all on architecture. His reviews of Russian literature, found in periodicals such as the Foreign quarterly review, were published anonymously, but the paper identified his authorship of a huge number of reviews. The Foreign quarterly review can be accessed electronically through this record or physically (Q900.c.71 (order in Rare Books)).