Sounds of February, Smells of October: The Russian Revolution as Sensory Experience

Plamper, Jan. 2021. Sounds of February, Smells of October: The Russian Revolution as Sensory Experience. The American Historical Review, 126(1), pp. 140-165. ISSN 0002-8762 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Temporally speaking, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was not a news item, not even a rumor, but first and foremost novel sensory impressions—gunshots with live ammunition from unusual places, the smell of burnt police files. This article explores the sensory history of the revolution through ego-documents like diaries and memoirs. It tracks in detail how people of various backgrounds in Petrograd and Moscow lived the olfactory class struggles after February and the taste excesses of the post-October “wine pogroms,” how they expressed a new experience of time in a sensory idiom, and how they ultimately became habituated to the new sounds and sights. Historiography is at a propitious moment to move beyond a dichotomy of discourse vs. “raw” experience: conjoining the histories of experience, the senses, and the emotions, the article probes what is to be gained from interpreting a world-historical event with a concept of experience as an integrated, multimodal, simultaneous sensory-emotional-cognitive process. Avant-garde artists, contemporaries of the Russian Revolution, foreshadowed such a holistic concept of experience by a century.

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Revolution, Violence, Russia Soviet, Senses

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1 June 2020Accepted
31 December 2020Published Online
March 2021Published

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Date Deposited:

02 Dec 2020 14:09

Last Modified:

31 Dec 2022 02:26

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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