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The new Soviet archival sources

Hypotheses for a critical assessment
Andrea Graziosi
p. 13-64


The essay puts forward a number of hypotheses concerning the value and the weaknesses of the pre-1953 Soviet archival sources. A brief review of the Moscow central archives and of their holdings is followed by a discussion of the documentation pertaining to the people ruling the country. After mapping the territory of the sources that are today available, an attempt is made at evaluating the size and the relevance of the lacunae in this kind of documentation. The biases of the documents and their causes are then analyzed. Particular attention is here devoted to the ideologies, the characteristics, the interests and the cultures of the Soviet bureaucracies. After a specialized treatment of economic data, a final section raises the problem of the huge lacunae in the documentation pertaining to the life and the mentalités of the Soviet people. The abundance of political police reports cannot make up for the dearth of autonomously produced documents and the special features of their surrogates (letters to newspapers, etc.). A brief discussion of the possible remedies to the many problems plaguing the student of Soviet history concludes the essay.

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Electronic reference

Andrea Graziosi, « The new Soviet archival sources », Cahiers du monde russe [Online], 40/1-2 | 1999, Online since 15 January 2007, Connection on 18 June 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/monderusse.2

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Andrea Graziosi

Università degli studi di Napoli «Federico II».

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