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THE LIBRARY  / RUSSIAN ARCHIVES AND PRIMARY DOCUMENTS
30.01.2012


This Library resource is meant to showcase information on accessing archives in Russia or archives covering subjects related to Russia or any state of the former Soviet Union. It is meant to complement our page on sites devoted to history and culture (with additional research information) and our page on building professional academic careers. Your contributions and suggestions are welcome! Contact the author. 

The SRAS Guide to Russian Archives
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    Online or US-Based Archives
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Color Code:   Red links are to sites only in Russian.  
                     Gray links have English available.    

What is "The Library?"     Contact the editor

 

1.  Online or US-Based Archives           report an error          back to top

Inventory of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Digital Projects has a name that says it all.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries has several digitized, rare Russian books.

New York Public Library has one of the largest collections of Slavic primary documents in the US.

The Russian Empire and Soviet Union: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States is just that.

The Ukrainian Museum Archives focuses on Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian immigrant culture.

RussianArchives.com offers many images, movies, and recordings - for a price.

 

2. Sources for Statistics and Other Info           report an error          back to top

Sova Center offers lots of information on democracy, xenophobia, antisemitism, and other civil-society issues in Russia. Site is entirely in Russian.

Demoscope has extensive population data for the late USSR, including breakdown by nationality.

Unicef offers a page of stats - mostly from 2005 and earlier on issues of nutrition, education, and more in Russia.

The United Nations published its human development index on Russia in 2006. It has lots of stats on everything from life span to literacy. (Though they are mostly official stats from the RF.)

The Red Book is a very extensive list of Russian ethnic minorities, with information about their location, history, etc.

Consistency Lists provide massive lists of Russian names, from those of historical figures to current institutions. Meant to provide consistency to transliteration and spelling, these are also handy to checking place names and dates.

Bibliographic Database of Linguistics provides bibliographical references to scholarly publications on all branches of linguistics and all the languages of the world, with the emphasis on non-Indo-European languages and lesser known Indo-European languages.

The All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) was originally part of the Ministry of Labour and the Council of the Trade Unions of the USSR. It's now a state-owned company with a board of directors drawn from the ministries and presidential administration. It is the largest and most active public opinion firm in Russia. Most findings are available free only in Russian

The Levada Center is perhaps the best respected agency in Russia for polls, analyses, and studies covering economics, sociology, and politics.

Angus-Reid offers global monitoring: short descriptions in English of various polls taken around the world. See the search function at the bottom of the home page.

Public Opinion Foundation was originally part of VTsIOM, but became an independent non-profit in 1992. It's often used by such entities as the presidential administration, the Central Bank, and Gazprom. The site is broadly organized by topic or chronology. 

ROMIR Monitoring is Gallup International's representative in Russia. Their site offers most polls for free with handy figures and graphs to boot. However, they have provided no organization other than chronology. Try Google's "search site" option on this one.

 

3. Library and Archival Services               report an error          back to top 
    Research in Russia without leaving home!

EOD is a service of European Libraries. This digitizes books published between 1500-1900 for a reasonalbe price. The document you ordered then also goes into a public domain database of scanned, rare books.

Russian Courier is a copy service serving the Russian State Library, Russia's largest depository of books and research materials. They will make scans of documents you may need and email them to you. Their services are reasonably priced and highly recommended! 

The Russian National Library also now has an in-house copy/scan service. Most of the directions are currently in Russian and are not so easy to follow, but if you can get through them, the dollar-a-page price tag is quite reasonable and the quality of the scans is very good.

The Slavic and East European Library runs a free online service to help those researchers (yes, even students) of FSU-related subjects obtain materials related to their research topic. They also have an impressive list of links based on subject to help you find information.  

Slavistik Portal offers a library search engine that searches several collections around the world to find what you need. You can order copies of the material on-line in most cases.

 

4. Networking for Researchers           report an error          back to top

SEELANGS is a large and immensely helpful listserve connecting Slavists around the world.

The JewishGen Family Finder is a database of ancestral towns and surnames currently being researched by Jewish genealogists worldwide and connecting those seeking ancestors of the same surname or town of origin.

 

5. Guides to Russian Archives           report an error          back to top 
    Before traveling abroad to research, plan ahead with the help of these sites!

ArcheoBiblioBase is an English-language site with lots on Russian archives and requirements for performing research in them. Fuller information can be found, in Russian, at RusArchives.ru.

Where to Find Documents? is a site that lists which archives contain what type of documents about WWII.

EastView.com is an excellent (pay) source for books and periodicals about Russia and the CIS. See also their "Guidebook to Russian Archives," an index of what's available where!

SRAS can help you get into Russian archives, find translators, etc.

Professor Olga E. Glagoleva has a site to help introduce others to Russian archives. See esepcially her selected bibliography on archival research.

Professor Mark Steinberg has written a very helpful guide as well based on his own experiences researching in Russia.

Professor Mark Harrison has several useful resources on Soviet archives online.

Archives of Russia is a massive three volume "directory and bibliographic guide to holdings in Moscow and St. Petersburg." It retails for around 200-300 USD, but most researchers agree it is well worth the cost.

Archives in America - A considerable list of Soviet document collections housed in America.

The Russian Empire and Soviet Union: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States is just that.

 

6. Field Notes from Russian Archives           report an error          back to top 
    Click on the acronym for the archive website. If you have had experience researching abroad in Russia and would like to contribute to these field notes, please contact us!

 

General Notes
Moscow has many archives! You can find lists of different archives and their collections at the ArcheoBiblioBase (extensive and not so easy to navigate) and RosArchives (in Russian only). We have also included below information as contributed by our students below.

To enter the reading rooms of Russian archives, researchers must obtain a propusk from the archive's administration in order to perform research there. You will need your passport and a letter of introduction.  All archives require an official letter, usually from the researcher's affiliated educational institution. You may download an example letter from the SRAS site. 

Make sure that the letter you submit 1) is addressed to the director of the archive to which you seek access (and names that archive specifically); 2) indicates the topic of your research, and 3) refers to specific records groups that you believe are in their collection. If you have found citations to documents in other scholars' works, list these citations as well. Citations to documents found in archives should list the archive, the fond, the opisi, the dela and then the page number (known as a "list.") and should look something like this: RGASPI f. 16, op. 2, d. 16, l. 45. 

Also, please note that the example letter is designed for historians, who are the most common researchers abroad. It can be adapted, of course, to meet the needs of sociologists, anthropologists, etc. who ware also interested in research abroad. Most researchers write their own letters and have their professors sign them. 

Once you have your propusk, you can visit the reading room. Note that archives post their rules and regulations prominently in the reading room.  Read them: some archives allow you to plug your laptop in while you research, while others insist that you only use your batteries.

Most archives have an official "putivoditel" which describe the various "fonds" they store. A fond usually represents documents from an entire government agency or at department within that agency. "Opisi" are subsections of fonds, often separated by subject. Individual files within the opisi are known as "dela" (delo in singular). For example, GARF has a 18-volume putivoditel; ask for it when you’re in the reading room.

Some archives also have computerized records.  Researchers at both GA RF and RGAE have access to an on-line database that includes many fonds (but not all), with descriptions of the holdings down to the opis level.  If you’re creative, you can search GA RF’s database using keywords.  Don’t neglect the putivoditel since keyword searches in the database and the name and geographic indices in the printed putivoditel give yield very different results.

Try to network as much as possible while abroad and doing research. No matter how obscure you may think your research is, there are likely other researchers looking into similar issues, particularly if you are in a major city like Moscow or St. Pete. Each new person you meet will make your life easier by an order of magnitude. You can start networking even before you arrive by making posts to sites like RedTape.ru, Expat.ru, and SEELANGS expressing your research subject and destination.

Think seriously about how much time you'll need to complete your research, and be sure to account for how much time you'll need to acclimate to everyday life in Russia and the contingencies that you'll encounter. You can still accomplish a significant amount of study on limited budget of time and resources, but it is nearly impossible to do so without help. You should also be aware that archives keep "sanitary days," which means they are closed for one day a month. In addition, archivists take summer vacations: in RGANI, during July; and in other archives, during August. The archives are closed during these vacations.

Info submitted: 8/25/07 by Brian Horne, PhD Candidate, Anthropology, University of Chicago.
Info Updated: 9/30/07 by Jennifer Amos, PhD Candidate, History, University of Chicago.
Info Updated: 8/30/09 by Elizabeth Bishop, Assistant Professor, History, Texas State University.

 

AVP
Full Name: Архив внешней политики
English Translation: Foreign Affairs Archive
Info submitted: 9/30/07 by Jennifer Amos, PhD Candidate, History, University of Chicago.
Info Updated: 8/30/09 by Elizabeth Bishop, Assistant Professor, History, Texas State University.

Documents needed to get propusk: Letter from your university, letter from a Russian institution, if you can find more letters attesting to you and your greatness, please bring them. You will also need a cover letter describing, in detail, your project and what type of documents you would like to see. These types of documents must be bullet-pointed. Do not forget the bullet-points; letters without bullet points may be considered invalid. Also, in your cover letter, indicate and underline a fax number where your acceptance can be faxed. Otherwise, the MID archivists will choose one at random from the letterhead of one of the multiple letters you submitted.
Time to get propusk: 3 months

Prep beforehand: If possible, send these documents or fax them.  The putivoditel is quite difficult to get a hold of even within the archive. 

Time between request of delo and receipt: varies from 1 week to 1 month.
Maximum delo that can be requested at one time: if you find out a maximum, let us know!

Problems: The putivoditel is not accessible by mere mortals. Even if you get the putivoditel, you cannot request material through the putivoditel. The archivist who reads your project description and document request will decide what you do and do not receive. This means be as clear, thorough, and explicit as possible in your letter. However, if you are too explicit, they will not give you files they believe will be outside your scope. However, if you are not explicit enough, they will reject the application. You will need to find a happy medium - and give yourself lots of time to find that happy medium. Laptops are not allowed. Security is tight.

 

GARF
Full Name: Государственный архив Российской Федерации
English Translation: State Archive of the Russian Federation
Info submitted: 9/30/07 by Jennifer Amos, PhD Candidate, History, University of Chicago.

Documents needed to get a propusk: Letter from anyone, passport. (Seriously, this is the easiest one to get into. You can write your own letter and they'll even supply the paper.)
Time to get propusk: 20 minutes

Prep beforehand: GARF's putivoditel are available at many libraries and are usually for sale rather affordably at the RGASPI bookstore. Therefore, I knew the fonds I was interested in.

Working days between requesting delo and receipt: 3
Maximum delo that can be requested at one time: 10

Problems: GARF gets busy at times and it is not unusual when very busy for seats to run out. During those times (July in my experience), it is best to be there within 5 minutes of its opening. GARF also is undergoing remont, which means that for the next couple months nothing is available there. The bathrooms near the reading room are absolutely foul.

 

GKTsMVV
Full Name: Государственный культурный центр-музей (ГКЦМ) В.С. Высоцкого
English Translation: State Cultural Center-Museum of V. C. Vysotsky.  
Info submitted: 8/25/07 by Brian Horne, PhD Candidate, Anthropology, University of Chicago.

Documents needed to get a proposk: Letter from your university, passport.
Time to get propusk: 2-3 weeks

Prep beforehand: putivoditel (with documents and recordings) is available from the archivists.

Working days between requesting delo and receipt: usually less than one.
Maximum delo that can be requested at one time:  if you find out a maximum, let us know!

Problems: The archives are only open on Wednesdays, so allot yourself enough Wednesdays to get done what you need to get done. The archivists are remarkably helpful - they talked with me about my project and helped me to find materials related to my project. However, photocopying is not permitted so be prepared to take lots of notes. Laptops are permitted here.

 

RGASPI
Full Name: Российский государственный архив социально-политической истории
English Translation: Russian State Archive of Social-Political History
Info submitted: 9/30/07 by Jennifer Amos, PhD Candidate, History, University of Chicago.
Info Updated: 8/30/09 by Elizabeth Bishop, Assistant Professor, History, Texas State University.

Documents needed to get a propusk: Letter from university, your passport (w/registration).
Time to get propusk: 1 hour

Prep beforehand: RGASPI has several reading rooms: one on the fifth floor, one on the fourth floor, and one up the street. The reading room archivist on the fourth floor has access to a computer database that includes many fondy and opisy.

RGASPI's putivoditel is available in the RGASPI bookstore. That said, the reading room archivist, Misha, will insist that he knows what you need to see. He will then hand you the opisi for those dela that he deems you need. Regardless of whether or not he is right, humor him for a couple hours. Otherwise, your life will be miserable in these archives.

Working days between requesting delo and receipt: Three in the fourth floor reading room.
Maximum delo that can be requested at one time: Ten in the fourth floor reading room.

Problems and notes: A large portion of the material is in microfilm. However, there are 20 microfilm readers and only four have both light bulbs and focus. If you get there late and have microfilm, you might as well go home. The first time you go, look where people are sitting in the microfilm room. This will help you figure out which readers are the good ones. Also, the head archivist in the reading room yells at everyone. Don't take it personally. Lastly, there are also only so many desks that have power outlets, so if you've written material and a laptop, you will either want to a) get there early and/or b) bring paper in case you cannot plug in.

The dedicated Komintern reading room is in the "main branch" (downtown, Bol'shaia Dmitrovka, 15, m. Pushkinskaya). Comintern materials are in reading room #2, supervised by Larisa, who is warmly helpful and shares the unpublished indices to the collections with researchers and is skilled with a computerized inventory of her collections.

There is another RGASPI reading room for Komsomol material at the Kaluzhskaia metro stop. The archivist Galina Mikhailovna, although opposed to the internet, is quite helpful and genuinely excited about her Komsomol holdings. Unexpected closings or changes to the schedule are not posted on the site.

Other: RGASPI has its own cafeteria, with a retro Euro atmosphere and continuious Soviet films on a big-screen TV.

 

RGANI
Full Name: Российский государственный архив новейшей истории
English Translation: Russian Government Archive of Contemporary History
Info submitted: 9/30/07 by Jennifer Amos, PhD Candidate, History, University of Chicago.
Info Updated: 8/30/09 by Elizabeth Bishop, Assistant Professor, History, Texas State University.

Documents needed to get a propusk: Letter from your university, your passport. (RGANI will not accept a copy of the passport and a spravka if you are being registered. You will have to wait until you can present your original passport.)
Time to get propusk: 1-2 weeks

Prep beforehand: RGANI does not have a published putivoditel.  When you get there, they will hand you a notebook.  The notebook is annoyingly vague.

Working days between requesting delo and receipt: Three.
Maximum delo that can be requested at one time: Five

Problems: RGANI has somewhat tight security as the building houses many other government offices. You will have to be greeted at the door by the archivist, who will personally escort you to the archive.  

You will not be able to bring a laptop; your research experience will shift to hand-copying materials—most of which are on microfilm. Also do not attempt to bring an ipod, camera, or anything like this.

Other: There is a cafeteria in the complex, which means that you can lunch with the archivists if they like you!

 

RGB
Full Name: Российская государственная библиотека
English Translation: Russian State Library; Also known as the Lenin Library.
Info entered: 3/11/08
Info Updated: 8/30/09 by Elizabeth Bishop, Assistant Professor, History, Texas State University.

Documents needed to get a propusk: Passport and a fee of 100RUR.
Time to get propusk: 20 minutes
Other: as this library is quite popular, you will be assigned a reading room which is indicated in the blue box of your library card.  To access material on military, legal, music, and other "special collections," you will need to go to a separate reading room - ask at the desk as you are applying for you proposk where material on your subject is located. If you will need access to rare books and documents, you will also need to submit a formal letter in Russian stating your research topic.

Prep beforehand: RGB's putivoditel are available online in Russian. They are also available on public computers on the first floor. To request materials, you must fill out a form at the desk located outside your assigned reading room.

Working days between requesting delo and receipt: .5 (request in the morning, receive in afternoon) 
Maximum delo that can be requested at one time: 10

Problems, minutia: No printed material may enter the library - including dictionaries. You can bring a laptop, however, as well as pens and paper. Electrical outlets are hard to come by. There is a small and comfortable cafe in the basement.

You may be assigned to reading room number one because of construction in the librarians' room. Seats and desk space for researchers are in short supply in this room. You may also be assigned to reading room number 2 or 3: both are much more spacious and comfortable. Reading room number 4 is for internet access.

 

RGALI
Full Name: Российский государственный архив литературы и искусства
English Translation: The Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts
Info entered: 3/27/09
Info Updated: 8/30/09 by Elizabeth Bishop, Assistant Professor, History, Texas State University.

RGALI has some of the most efficient administration of all Moscow archives: the reading room supervisor even answers email messages!

RGALI has two reading rooms.  Reading room number 1 is in the “main” building (not visible from the street, behind the building that houses the military archive); reading room number 2 is in the older of the military archive’s two buildings.

RGALI allows researchers to use laptops in the reading rooms.  If you want to plug yours into the wall, you will pay a 20 ruble fee.

 

RGAI
Full Name: Российский государственный исторический архив
English Translation: Russian State History Archive
Info entered: 3/27/09


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