Soviet History Colloquium with Stephen Lovell Stenography and the Public Sphere in Modern Russia
Stenography brought about an unsung revolution in the modern world: for the first time ever, writing could keep up with speech. In Russia, the adoption of this technology came later than in France or Britain, but it was concentrated in time and tied to a particular civilizational project: the Great Reforms launched in the 1860s, with their key values of glasnost’ and publichnost’. Over the decades that followed, stenography would play an important role in helping Russian society to imagine itself. Even if the right to publish transcripts was periodically contested, stenography would also change the stakes and possibilities of political discourse. With the exhaustively recorded debates in the State Duma, stenography entered a Golden Age, which continued into the revolutionary and early Soviet periods. With the mushrooming of Soviet institutions and meeting culture, the demands for stenographers’ services had never been greater. From the mid-1920s onwards, stenography once again became contested territory, as the question of who got to control the transcript became paramount. Yet, even with the tightening of the representational system known as Socialist Realism, stenography retained – at least until the adoption of user-friendly sound recording technology in the mid-1940s – much of its significance as a documentary record of public speech.
Stephen Lovell is Professor of Modern History at King's College, London, where he joined the department in 2002 following a postdoctoral fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford. He received his MA and PhD from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), University of London, after studying for his BA at King’s College, Cambridge. His books include Summerfolk: A History of the Dacha (2003), The Shadow of War: Russia and the USSR, 1941 to the present (2010) and The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction (2009).