At the onset of Peter's reign Russian culture was in a dismal state. The vast majority of the Russian population was illiterate, even among the nobility. Since Peter wanted to westernize Russian society on virtually all levels, education and culture would have to be an integral part of such an extensive transition. The most obvious changes were physical, as Peter decreed that the nobility has to dress in the European style and shave their beards. Peter also began to make some strides toward integrating women into high society. He abolished the Mongolian style terem and women were to attend court functions on the same terms as men.
[...] Although Peter focused mostly on architecture and arts he deemed to be more practical, he still recognized the importance of fine arts and literature. He ordered the construction of the Kunstkamera, which became the world's first museum open to the public. Peter tried to encourage the Russian people to show enthusiasm for collecting artwork and decreed the following in 1718: anyone shall find in the earth, or in the water, any ancient objects, such as unusual stones, or the bones of a man or beast, or of fishes or of birds, unlike those which are with us now, or such as are larger or smaller than usual, or any old inscriptions on stones, iron, or copper, or any ancient weapons not now in use, or any vessel or such like thing that is very ancient or unusual, let him bring such things to us, and ample reward shall be given to him.” (George, 75). [...]
[...] Alexander I Alexander was a product of the new spirit of social awareness, as he was raised by Catherine the Great and prepared to become a liberal ruler. It was for this very reason that the intelligentsia eagerly awaited Alexander's ascension to the throne. After a period of reactionary repression under Alexander's father Russia needed a liberal tsar again. The intelligentsia underwent tremendous change during Alexander's reign, mostly due to the events of the time, rather than Alexander actions. Russian society of the early 19th century was deeply affected by the Napoleonic wars. [...]
[...] Alexander II Alexander's reign had a promising beginning for the intelligentsia, as he allowed political exiles to return to Russia, even the Decembrists and the Petrashevsty. Most importantly, the serfs were emancipated in 1861, thereby answering to the century-long criticism from the ranks of the intelligentsia. The most prominent member of the intelligentsia during this period was Dostoyevsky. His novels Crime and Punishment, and The Possessed had profound impact on the younger generation in Russia. capital soon found itself populated with everyday characters straight out of Dostoyevsky's novels, revolutionaries like those portrayed in The Possessed, and individuals who considered themselves and their deeds beyond good and evil, like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.” (George 339). [...]
[...] The major theme of Catherine's reforms was reason and enlightenment. She viewed herself as a philosopher, and thereby shaped the Russian public into a more intellectual and educated society. Many of Europe's leading thinkers came to St. Petersburg during this time, most notably, Denis Diderot. Another growing trend that had great influence on intellectual thought during this period was Freemasonry. “Freemasonry offered thinking people a new concept of the spiritual, a set of moral principles, and a sense of higher calling through its commitment to philanthropic and educational work geared toward realizing the enlightenment's ideal of the perfection of man.” (George, 196). [...]
[...] Conclusion: The Russian intelligentsia underwent fundamental transformations in the time between the reigns of Peter the Great and Alexander II. Existing as a social fringe group at best, at the beginning of the 18th century, the intelligentsia was nurtured by the reform minded monarchs Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, and eventually became the driving political force by the middle of the 19th century. The introduction of enlightenment and reason to Russian mainstream society by Catherine fueled the intellectual fervor of the reform minded educated elite. [...]
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