Transition is a hot topic these days. At this moment I can name many states dealing with enormous transitional phases in government and economy: 1) The United States of America has a new president who was inaugurated just a few days ago on January 20th, 2) Great Britain has exited (or ‘Brexited’, I suppose) the European Union (EU) this past year and is in the midst of working out alterations to government and economic policy as I write this, and finally 3) EVERY OTHER sovereign state who is responding to these and many other changes in hopes of providing a better future for their country.
…Better future for their country? Assuming that these governments have their populations’ best interest in mind, I would assume that their ‘future’ would mean the kids, or future working-generation who support state ideology and overall well-being. For this reason, I chose this vibrant photo taken in 1909 of “Russian children sitting on the side of a hill near a church and bell tower in the countryside near White Lake, in the north of European Russia” to begin my exploration of Russian/Soviet history.
In late imperial Russia at the turn of the century, children were only somewhat protected from factory labor by laws enforced in the late 19th century. Older children (around ages 15-17) would work “the standard workday [that] remained 11.5 hours, the norm introduced by the 1897 law [concerning child labor]”(Gorshkov p. 196). Younger children would stay at home, usually in an agricultural or post-serfdom farm setting. Education was very limited, and access to a primary school education for the majority of the peasant population was unlikely. Once children reached working age they were put into factories to keep fueling the industrial labor force set in place. Being a kid at this time in Russia was no easy feat. Fortunately, the fall of imperial Russia brought with it the rise of a public education system and more flexibility and opportunities for the peasant population.
The children shown in the photograph taken by Prokudin-Gorskii were sitting by White Lake, which is located directly east of St. Petersburg. It is known to be a place of business for those who work on the river system in the fishing industry or a vacation spot for city dwellers. An interesting fact about the lake is that on an island in the middle of it is located a high security prison that houses some of Russia’s worst criminals.