The cultural history of electricity in the 19th-century Russia: electric light as a spectacle and as entertainment

, (Санкт-Петербургский политехнический университет Петра Великого)

The article explores one of the aspects of the cultural history of electricity in Russia in the 19th – early 20th century, drawing upon the approaches developed within the framework of the Western humanities. The study focuses on the circumstances of introducing electricity to the public and on the impact of electricity on the construction and transformation of leisure and recreation practices and spaces. The authors demonstrate the specifics of domesticating electricity that was hindered by the latter’s uncertain identity. Numerous projects of perfect future described both in social utopias and popular science writings were associated with comprehending and taming electricity. In the 19th century, the ‘magic’ of electricity that for a long time remained unaffordable for the mass-market customers became part of the urban visual culture, for instance, having been used by authorities to enhance the impact of political spectacles such as Imperial ceremonies. Electricity became a significant contribution to the development of leisure culture: it was used as a decoration for festivities, amusement spaces, and events. At the industrial and art exhibitions, the merits and possibilities of the new technology were being demonstrated to the public though entertainment and education, thus forming the vision of modern life as it ‘should be’. The authors conclude that, in the period in question, electricity must not be regarded as just a sensational innovative technology that possessed obvious advantages lacking in all previous technologies.


Recommended bibliographic description

, , The cultural history of electricity in the 19th-century Russia: electric light as a spectacle and as entertainment, Voprosy Istorii Estestvoznaniia i Tekhniki [Studies in History of Science and Technology], , p.  448-469

    © Studies in the History of Science and Technology: Quarterly scientific journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences (2015)
    ISSN 0205-9606. Индекс 70143