Inside the Chronicle: The Pages of Early Soviet Performance

This series gives readers an inside look into the scholarly articles that grace the pages of the Princeton University Library Chronicle.

The following is excerpted from the Autumn/Winter 2020 issue; Volume LXXVIII, No. 1.

The Pages of Early Soviet Performance: Soviet Periodicals on the Performing Arts 1917-1932, by Thomas F. Keenan

IN RECENT YEARS the Princeton University Library has been working to build one of the most extensive collections of early Soviet illustrated periodicals in the West. As publications created for more or less immediate consumption, periodicals can serve as rich documentary sources that complement more ambitious works of art, literature, and architecture conceived, at least in some measure, for posterity. These composite word-and-image print publications aimed at contemporaries are more apt to rely on a multidimensional commonality of experience and therefore present opportunities for scholarly inquiry into intensely topical communications among inhabitants of a particular historical moment. Analysis of these communications yields enormous informative material for cultural and intellectual history.

(from left to right: Sample covers from Vestnik iskusstv (Arts Herald), Ermitazh (Hermitage), Zrelishcha (Spectacles), Sovetskii teatr (Soviet Theater), and 7 dnei M.K.T. (7 Days of the Moscow Chamber Theater).


The texts and images on the pages of the early Soviet illustrated periodicals in Princeton’s collection capture a wealth of detail from evanescent moments of the politically, socially, and culturally volatile first decades of the Soviet era. One ephemeral category richly documented in the publications is the sphere of performance and spectacle in the early Soviet period. A number of titles devoted entirely or partially to the performing arts provide a record of day-by-day developments in the realm of performance in the immediate postrevolutionary years: 7 dnei M.K.T., 30 dnei, Brigada khudozhnikov, Daesh’, Ermitazh, LEF, Masterstvo teatra—vremennik Kamernogo Teatra, Novyi LEF, Novyi zritel’, PerSimFans, RabIs, Rabochii i teatr, Sovetskaia muzyka, Sovetskii teatr, Vestnik iskusstv, Vestnik rabotnikov iskusstv, Za proletarskoe iskusstvo, and Zrelishcha (see image above). These titles have a cumulative chronological scope of 1922 to 1941 and provide both broad and detailed coverage of what is known as the most wildly diverse and productively unstable period in Soviet culture: the first decade and a half after the October Revolution (1917–1932). Inside the issues for those years, jumbled in with articles asking and answering the question of what Soviet performed art should be, pieces on new performances of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Beethoven compete for space with accounts of theatrical representations of math and physics theories, industrial-labor ballets, orchestras of factory tools, and “mechanized” play stagings consisting of choreography and acrobatics performed on modular and dynamic apparatus against abstract backdrops of stark geometric forms.

About the Princeton University Library Chronicle
The Princeton University Library Chronicle is an interdisciplinary journal sponsored by the Friends of Princeton University Library since 1930. Its mission is to publish articles of scholarly importance and general interest based on research in the collections of the Princeton University Library (PUL). The Chronicle welcomes submissions of articles relating to all facets of the collections. We also welcome articles relating to the history of the University and the Princeton region. The entire archives of the Chronicle (1939-) and its predecessor, Biblia (1930-1938), are available, open-access, full-text on JSTOR.

Join the Friends of Princeton University Library to receive the current print edition of The Chronicle and all future print editions, in addition to a host of other benefits. The next issue of The Chronicle will be published in June 2022.

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications