Russian & Soviet Science and Technology


The best overview in English of the history of science in Russia before 1917 is Alexander Vucinich’s two-volume study Science in Russian Culture (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1963, 1970). A treatment of the Soviet period, somewhat incomplete in its coverage, is Zhores Medvedev, Soviet Science (New York: Norton, 1978). A topic in the history of Soviet science that touches on almost all scientific fields is the role of Marxism. For the 1920s and early 1930s the basic work on this topic is David Joravsky, Soviet Marxism and Natural Science (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1961). For the role of Marxism in later periods see Loren R. Graham, Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union (New York: Knopf 1972). The latter book has been expanded and updated to cover events up to the middle 1980s in Graham’s Science, Philosophy, and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1987).

The most important single institution in Russian and Soviet science has been the Academy of Sciences, founded in 1725 according to a plan worked out by Tsar Peter the Great. Since the Academy has traditionally encompassed all fields of knowledge, including both the natural and social sciences, histories of the Academy are virtually general histories of science in Russia, although they do not give much attention to university or industrial research. Two sources treating the early history of the Academy in the tsarist period are Alexander Lipski, “The Foundation of the Russian Academy of Sciences,” Isis, 1953, 44:349-354 and Ludmilla Schulze, “The Russification of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and Arts in the Eighteenth Century,Ó British Journal of the History of Science, 1985, 18:305-335. A work that provides much general information on the Soviet period is Alexander Vucinich, Empire of Knowledge: The Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1917-1970) (Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 1984).

A crucial time for the Academy came in the late 1920s, when it was thoroughly restructured by Soviet authorities. This episode is described in Loren R. Graham, The Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Communist Party, 1927-1992 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1967); and in Aleksey E. Levin, “Expedient Catastrophe: A Reconsideration of the 1929 Crisis at the Soviet Academy of Science,” Slavic Review 1988, 47(2):261-279. A later, much less traumatic, reform of the Academy is described by Graham in “Reorganization of the USSR Academy of Sciences,” in Soviet Policy-Making, edited by Peter Juviler and Henry Morton (New York: Praeger, 1967), pp. 133-162.

Although the Academy has dominated Russian and Soviet science, other scientific societies also existed. A description of the fate of the prerevolutionary societies after the Revolution is James Swanson’s “The Bolshevization of Scientific Societies in the Soviet Union: An Historical Analysis of the Character, Function, and Legal Position of Scientific and Scientific-Technical Societies in the USSR, 1929-1936” (PhD. diss., Dept. of History, Indiana Univ., 1968).

One of the most distinctive features of Soviet science is the organization of research in the institute system, an innovation adopted in the 1920s. Although there are research institutes in all scientific nations today–and there were quite a few even in the 1920s-the term scientific-research institute (nauchno-issledovatel’skii institut) has a stature and a meaning in the Soviet Union that it does not have in any Western country. Almost all outstanding scientists and engineers in the Soviet Union are members of an institute or have connections with one. The establishment and early history of this system are described in Mark Adams, “Science, Ideology, and Structure: The Kortsov Institute, 1900-1970,” in The Social Context of Soviet Science, edited by Linda Lubrano and Susan Gross Solomon (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1980), pp. 173-204; Paul Josephson, “The Ioffe Physico-Technicall Institute and the Birth of Soviet Physics” (Ph.D. diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1986) and Loren R. Graham, “The Formation of Soviet Research Institutes: A Combination of Revolutionary Innovation and International Borrowing,” Russian and Slavic History, edited by I Karl Rowney and G. Edward Orchard (Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1977), pp. 49-75. The work of an important institute with origins long before the Soviet government arose is described in Stanwyn G. Shener, The Komarov Institute: 250 Years of Russian Research (Washington, D.C.: Smith- sonian Institution Press, 1967).

Another striking feature of the history of Russian science, at least in the nineteenth century, is the role of women. Russian women were among the first in the world to receive doctorates in mathematics, physiology, zoology, chemistry, and other fields, as discussed in Ann Hibner Koblitz, “Science, Women, and the Russian Intelligentsia: The Generation of the 1860s,” Isis, 1988, 73:208-226.

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