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Article

Nobility and Schooling in Russia, 1700s-1760s: Choices in Social Context

Journal of Social History. 2016. Vol. 49. No. 3. P. 558-584.

This article uses the case of post-Petrine Russia to explore the role of formal schooling in social mobility and social reproduction among the elite in early modern context. A study of career and educational choices made by Russian nobles in the 1730s-1740s and recorded in the registers of the Heraldry and petitions for enrollment into the Noble Land Cadet Corps demonstrates that the members of post-Petrine elite did have very clear preferences regarding their service trajectories. As noble families acted on the basis of specific combinations of resources and threats each of them faced, there emerged deep cleavages within the elite in terms of its attitude towards schooling. While wealthier nobles tended to opt for joining state schools, especially the Noble Cadet Corps, the poorest nobility not only overwhelmingly ignored educational requirement and service registration rules imposed by the state, but also avoided applying for state schools, preferring instead to enlist directly into regiments as privates. Despite numerous attempts, the government failed to force these poorer nobles to follow new rules of entering schools and state service, codified in 1736-1737, and was forced to regularly issue collective pardons to the offenders. While wealth was one crucial factor shaping the nobles’ trajectories, their social connections and cultural endowments were no less important in channeling their educational and career choices and making them embrace or reject the post-Petrine service regime. As a result, the early modern “Westernization” of the elite emerges as a dynamic social process driven by the choices made by the nobles themselves.