From War to Revolution, Moscow University in the 19th Century

    The invasion in 1812 of Napoleon’s army sparked off the hitherto unknown patriotic enthusiasm among University students. Many joined the home guard, and the effort of the physicians was especially noted by M.I. Kutuzov.  During the period in which the Napoleonic troops occupied Moscow, the University buildings were virtually burnt to the ground.  The fire resulted in the destruction of the library, archives, the museum, countless pieces of equipment. The rebuiling and renovation of Moscow University became a paramount cause for the whole of Russian society. Scientific establishments, scientists and private persons donated money, books, antique manuscripts, nature and science collections, equipment, so as to see the University regain its stature.

  For the University library alone, more than seven thousand books were collected.  Despite the great difficulties which  Moscow University was going through, the professors and the students did not lose time and started their classes on the first of September, 1813. Towards the 1820s the number of students at Moscow University first exceeded 500. In the first half of the 19th century Moscow University played a leading role in Russia’s civic life. Many members of the Decembrist movement were Moscow University graduates. The traditions of free-thinking continued to alive and well in the student societies led by the Kritsky brothers, N.P. Sungurov, V.G. Belinsky, A.I. Gertsen, N.P. Ogarev and N.V. Stankevich. Within the University walls the Westernists and the Slavophiles debated over which path Russia should take as it advanced into the future.  Public lectures and discourse led by the outspoken frontman of the Westernists, the brilliant history scholar T.N. Granovsky, attracted the entire Moscow intellectual elite of the 1840s.

   Moscow University proved itself vigorous as a publisher, not confining itself to the production of scientific works alone.   The University printers were the first to issue "The Sonnets" by A.Miczkewic, "The Sportsman’s Notes" by I.S. Turgenev.   Recalling the years of the reaction under Nicolas I, A.I. Gertsen, appreciating the special role played by Moscow University, wrote:

"The University that fell from grace with the authorities grew as its influence grew: into it, as into a great reservoir flew the young blood of Russia’s from all the quarters, from all walks of life; in its auditoriums they cleansed themselves from home-bred prejudice, avaraged out, fraternized, then again broke up and flew out into all corners of Russia, into all its segments".

   A new stage in the University life began with the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and as Russia embarked on the path to capitalism.  The University Charter adopted in 1863 mirrored the major course of government reforms designed to accelerate the country’s development.  The growth of industries, trade, agriculture, change in the sphere of government, in the courts, the army - all called for better standards and the extention of university education.   The 1863 Charter provided for a greater number of educated subjects and a general increase in the teaching staff. More importance was attached to seminars, practicals and laboratory work.  The tradition of appointing by election the Rector and the deans, virtually wiped out in the reign of Nicolas I, was again revived.  The four faculties of Moscow University - history and philology, physics and mathematics, law, and medicine - taught about 1500 students, most of whom belonged to the raznochinets class.

  In pre-revolutionary Russia the professors of Moscow University did  much towards the fusion of science and practice.   University scholars and scientists produced school text-books and manuals.  A large number of graduates worked at schools giving account of themselves as the most skilled cohort of Russian teachers.

   On the initiative and with the assistance of Moscow University in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, Moscow witnessed a dramatic growth in the number of city museums and cultural spots: the Polytechnical, Historical, Zoological, Anthropological, the Fine Arts (now the Pushkin Museum of the Fine Arts), the opening of the Botanical Gardens and Zoological Gardens (the Moscow Zoo).

   The 1863 Charter, having created new opportunities for the advancement of Russian education and science, remained in effect only until 1884.  Following the assassination of the Czar Alexander II, the government again clamped down on the autonomy of Moscow University, keeping a stricter eye on how things were being taught. Nevertheless, the University survived as a centre of both progressive science and spiritual life in Russia.

   Moscow University is associated with the names of a great number of outstanding thinkers of the turn of the century: V.S. Solov’yov, V.V. Rozanov, E.N. Trubetskoiy and S.N. Trubetskoy, S.N. Bulgakov, P.A. Florensky.  The students and the professors responded to the most burning topics of the day.  Moscow University had among its tutors many renowned figures from Russia’s political parties.

   The students of Moscow University led the ranks of freedom champions in the 1905-1907 revolution.  At the gathering of September 7, 1905, the students adopted a resolution calling for the overthrow of autocracy and subsequent transformation of Russia into a democratic republic.

   The upswing of the revolutionary movement just before the First World War also affected Moscow University.  In 1911 in a show of protest against the victimization of some professors and the infringement on the University's autonomy, 130 professors and tutors demonstratively quit their jobs.   Among them were such world-renowned scientists as K.A. Timiryazev, P.N. Lebedev, N.D. Zelinsky, N.A. Umov, S.A. Chaplygin, V.I. Vernadsky, V.I. Picheta and others.   The government hit back by dismissing from the University over a thousand undergraduates, arresting and banishing from Moscow the revolutionary-minded students among them.  A steep cutback in the number of students occurred after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

   In spite of the multiple difficulties besetting it, Moscow University for the first 150 years of its existence made a great contribution to the advancement of Russian science and culture.  In the 19th and the early 20th centuries, the University included among its ranks the most prominent scientists representing the Russian science schools of mathematicians and mechanics N.D. Brashman, N.E. Zhukovsky, N.V. Bugaev, S.A. Chaplygin; physicists and astronomers A.G. Stoletov, F.A. Bredikhin, A.A. Belopol’sky, N.A. Umov, P.N. Lebedev, P.K. Shternberg; chemists V.V. Markovnikov, V.F. Luginin, I.A. Kablukov, N.D. Zelinsky; biologists and soil scientists K.F. Rul’e, A.I. Filomafitsky, I.M. Sechenov, K.A. Timiryazev, A.N. Severtsov, M.A. Menzbir, A.N. Sabanin, D.N. Pryanishnikov; medicine M.Ya. Mudrov, F.I. Inozemtsev, N.V. Sklifosovsky, G.A. Zakhar’in, A.A. Ostroumov, N.V. Filatov, F.F. Erisman, V.F. Snegirev; geographer and anthropologist D.N. Anuchin; geologists G.E. Schurovsky, V.O. Kovalevsky, A.P. Pavlov; geochemist V.I. Vernadsky; historians T.N. Granovsky, N.I. Nadezhdin, M.T. Kachenovsky, M.P. Pogodin, I.D. Belyaev, S.M. Solov’yov, V.O. Klyuchevsky, B.I. Ger’e, N.A. Rozhkov, M.N. Pokrovsky, Yu.V. Got’e; philologists N.S. Tikhonravov, F.I. Buslaev, N.I. Storozhenko, F.F. Fortunatov, F.E. Korsh, V.F. Miller, S.K. Shambinago, M.N. Speransky, M.M. Pokrovsky, V.N. Schepkin; lawyers B.N. Chicherin, K.D. Kavelin, M.M. Kovalevsky, P.I. Novgorodtsev; economists I.K. Babst, A.I. Chuprov, I.I. Yanzhul; philosophers E.N. Trubetskoi and S.N. Trubetskoi, among others.