The Great Narrative: The Evolution of State Censorship in Soviet Era Museums

By Emily Harvey

Faculty Mentor: Professor Steven Harris

Before the Revolution of 1917, Russian museums were created by and for the ruling elite. Strict limitations on attendance and what objects could be viewed by what persons defined Russia’s imperial era. After the Revolution, the Soviet Union began to open its museum doors and create more museums by and for the working-class people and their struggle. Starting in the 1920s, a “Great Narrative,” as I call it, came into being that shaped the themes and missions of each museum in the Soviet Union. The Great Narrative was developed by Soviet leaders and the censorship bureau and often changed regularly, requiring frequent museum renovations. While museum attendance flourished and millions of objects went on display, the Great Narrative of the Soviet Union was constantly changing, therefore the museum network was under revision at all times from the beginning to the end of the Soviet Union. The revision of the Great Narrative led to large amounts of censorship in Soviet era museums, however this censorship was also not stagnant. Starting in 1917 and through the 1980s, Soviet museums were subjected to comprehensive state censorship, whether about the overall narrative being told or the objects themselves. However, the censorship was not stagnant and increased or decreased depending on the Soviet leader of the time and what policies and narratives were being developed under their leadership.

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