Lomonosov: Forging a Russian National Myth

Dissertation, Mcgill University (Canada) (2003)

The eighteenth-century natural philosopher Mikhail Vasil'evich Lomonosov has long been represented by Russian writers and scholars as an encyclopedic figure who not only pioneered the dissemination of a scientific ethos in Russia, but whose own innumerable contributions to science make him eminently worthy of inclusion in a pantheon among the greatest scientific minds. A robust mythology extolling Lomonosov's role in Russian science and culture formed in the years immediately following his death, and would increase in vigor while adapting to changing historical circumstances until well into the twentieth century. This dissertation explores the evolution of Lomonosov's imposing stature in Russian thought from the middle of the eighteenth century to the first decades of the Soviet period. It reveals much about the intersection in Russian culture of changing attitudes towards the meaning and significance of science, as well as about the rise of a Russian national identity of which Lomonosov became an outstanding symbol. ;The processes by which myths can be used to create and shape historical memory are highlighted throughout this inquiry. At first, Lomonosov was depicted very generally as the pioneering Russian natural philosopher; later his contributions, still broadly framed, were conflated with select institutional agendas; finally historians of various disciplines appropriated his life in order to reinforce their own professional strategies. Even as the myth of Lomonosov grew more elaborate, however, it was the inspiring idea of Lomonosov's heroic determination to propagate science, culture, and education within Russia and his successful struggles against myriad obstacles to achieve this end that remained the primary and enduring biographical element. It is this image with which my study is principally concerned
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