The Common Reader in Public Readings With Magic Lantern Slides in Late Imperial Russia
This article investigates public readings in late Imperial Russia, which became both an official and popular educational practice with the establishment of the Standing Commission of Public Readings by the State Ministry of Public Enlightenment in 1872. Public readings were a form of useful and entertaining reading carried out by an authorized person who read aloud in front of an audience, thereby representing a significant democratization of the reading practice. The content of such readings, both textual and visual, was heavily controlled by the state authorities and inevitably led to the shaping of a very specific addressee, the so-called common reader.
The official image of the common reader was supposed to reflect an average citizen, and is emblematic of the complex problem of nation-building in Russian history. The study questions how the visual context of public readings contributed to the general image of the common reader. The article addresses the representation of the common reader in the media of the time, censorship limitations and strategies for illustrating public readings. This all gives a deeper perspective on the figure of the common reader, which became an ideological construct important for both domestic and foreign policy.