The website explores the everyday life and the material, political, and literary culture of St. Petersburg (renamed Petrograd during the First World War) at the beginning of the twentieth century. It maps eleven itineraries through the city with the purpose of creating a palpable sense of life in Russia's late imperial capital on the eve of the 1917 revolution and during the subsequent decade (when the city became Leningrad). Instead of taking the city's better known landmarks and history, Mapping Petersburg focuses on the relationship between modernity and modernism as it navigates the city's urban life, architectural sites, adopting perspectives that have not been considered before. It offers a unique narrative of the Russian metropolis, bringing together familiar and unfamiliar historical visual and literary material in a new way and creating a guide to the city for scholars, students, tourists, and web users who enjoy virtual travel through the past and to unfamiliar places.
Mapping Petersburg replicates the structure of a city, which in the words of the French critic Gilles Deleuze "is defined by entries and exits." Unlike most verbal narratives that develop in time, requiring the reader to enter them at the beginning, the city has multiple entry points which the website – and the web more generally – mirrors. Just like a city, the site can be navigated by following individual itineraries in a linear fashion. It can also be navigated by following the intersections between the itineraries, offering the user the experience of spatially configured hypertext narrative whose sequence is unfixed. The itineraries bring together distant parts of the city, linking them through a variety of narrative frames that tell stories about the ever moving and mutable historical metropolis. The Tram (Tramvai), the first listed itinerary, serves as a familiar example: we take the tram with the purpose of traveling to a specific destination that brings us to the city locale we intend to go to or visit, but we sometimes get off at an unplanned tram stop because our interest has been piqued by a street scene or signboard we see through the window. So we change narrative structures and pursue an unexpected narrative line, becoming flâneurs rather than travelers with a goal. Walter Benjamin, author of the Arcades Project, calls such exploration "straying," losing oneself in the city, which he identifies with experiencing its signboards and streets, passers-by, roofs, and kiosks. A literary montage of texts from a variety of sources, Benjamin's study of the Paris arcades is a model for this project.
Although the website exists as an independent narrative, it is also linked to a volume titled Petersburg/Petersburg: Novel and City 1900 – 1921 (Wisconsin University Press, 2010), which consists of two parts. Part I is an interrogation of Andrey Bely's famous modernist city-novel Petersburg, the original inspiration of Mapping Petersburg; part II is directly related to the itineraries, each of which is expanded in the volume into a scholarly essay.
The website and book originated in a seminar that I taught. The authors of both were graduate students in Russian literature and history at UC Berkeley, some of whom have gone on to teach at American and foreign universities (their names appear on the opening page of Mapping Petersburg and on the first page of the individual itineraries). The conceptualization and design of the site is the product of its authors’ and web designers’ sterling collaboration.
The project was funded by UC Berkeley, including the Berkeley Language Center where I would like to single out Mark Kaiser who provided us the necessary equipment, and who made Chris Palmatier, the Center's web designer, available to the project. I would also like to thank Irina Kuzes, an independent web designer, for her commitment and work on the website. Finally, my thanks go to Marsha Kinder, the director of the Labyrinth Project, who invited me to join the team that developed Russian Modernism and Its International Dimension, which introduced me to the scholarly potential of the digital medium.
Tramvai | Karpovka | Anatomizing Modernity | Nevsky Prospect
The Funeral of Alexander Blok | Postcards From Petersburg | Visions of Terror
The French in St. Petersburg | The Tower | An Enchanted Masquerade
The Singer Sewing Machine