The Central State Archive of Historical-Political Documents in St. Petersburg, Russia

A review of the Central State Archive of Historical-Political Documents of St. Petersburg Центральный государственный архив историко политических документов Санкт Петербурга (St. Petersburg).

For three weeks in May 2014, I visited the former Party Archive of Leningrad, which today is known as the “Central State Archive of Historical and Political Documents of St. Petersburg” (CGAIPD). This rather small archive – in comparison to RGASPI in Moscow, the Party archive for the union level, pre-1952 – holds valuable information on the development of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP, 1898-1917), the Russian Communist Party (RCP[b]), the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and all related Party institutions and organizations within Petrograd gubernia and Leningrad oblast from 1917 until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moreover, since the foundation of the Russian Federation the archive has also been receiving documents from all political parties in Leningrad oblast.

My dissertation focuses on Chinese leftist students who lived in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Since my field of research is not directly related to Russian or Soviet Studies, I have been confronted with questions about the purpose of my visit to the St. Petersburg archives. Many overlook the fact that Leningrad, as well as Moscow, was an important center of the international leftist student movement. Therefore, anyone with Russian-language skills who is interested in international leftist movements should pay attention to the materials of CGAIPD.

In preparation for a visit to CGAIPD, you should contact the archival staff via email. Explain your research topic, your institutional affiliations abroad and in Russia, and state the days you wish to work with documents in the reading room. Contact information can be found on the archive’s website, http://spbarchives.ru/web/group/cgaipd, and the reading room can also be reached by telephone at +7 (812) 274-10-66 if necessary. Normally, somebody from the archive responds very quickly by email. When I sent my original inquiry I was prepared to be asked to provide further information about myself and my research plans, and wondered whether I would have to wait for weeks before receiving permission to enter CGAIPD. This was not the case: on the very next day I received a brief email, with a scan of a short invitation letter signed by the head of the archive included as an attachment.

For an overview of the archive’s document holdings, quick online research can be helpful. All state archives of St. Petersburg are listed on http://spbarchives.ru/web/group, which links to CGAIPD’s database with a list of accessible fondu. Browsing this database in advance can give you first clues on what to look for, and the website also offers a simple search option (only in Russian). Here you can either work through the list of fondu – where you can also search by number, name, and year – or you can choose the link to the guide (putevoditel’). For me, searching for fondu online was a bit frustrating, as I did not find anything useful; many of the documents I eventually worked with productively in the archive’s reading room did not show up in my online search.

CGAIPD’s reading room opens on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with no designated break for lunch. Unlike some Russian archives where researchers have to show an entry pass (propusk) issued at the first visit whenever they visit the reading room, the staff at CGAIPD will give the guards a list with the names of all researchers currently using the reading room. Let the guards see your passport, and you will get inside. Researchers who stay longer may also have a pass, but since I was there on a short visit there was no need to issue one. Also, my surname is quite hard to pronounce and to understand in Russian. If you happen to have the same problem, just show them your visa with the Russian transliteration of your name.

On your first day in CGAIPD, you will most likely be met by a member of the reading room staff. You need to cross the entry hall on the first floor (during a break you can have a look at the temporary exhibitions displayed there), and go upstairs to the second floor where you will find the door to the reading room on your right. There are a few lockers, and a table with some chairs. Note that the staff is rather strict with eating and drinking, so you should make sure to be quick when having a bite of bread or a sip from a water bottle by the lockers.

The reading room itself is constructed in a large circular shape, with a gallery on the second floor. On the gallery level, you will find three computers for researching documents in the electronic catalog, and ten microfilm readers. The reading room is rather noisy, and you can also hear voices from the hallway and from downstairs. The tables are small and narrow, and there are only a few electric sockets available. But, in the early mornings and late afternoons, there should be only a handful of people present, and the atmosphere will be very nice.

Upon arrival, you will have to introduce yourself to the usually very friendly staff who can give valuable advice on the inventories and other finding aids. You also need to fill out a digital form stating your research aims and affiliation. Additionally, as at virtually all Russian archives, you need to provide an official document (otnoshenie) certifying your affiliation with an academic or research institution. Luckily, my supervisor at the University of Hamburg agreed to sign a stack of such letters in English and Russian before I left for Russia.

The ordering process in CGAIPD is quite easy. You can use the computers in the reading room to search for fondu and files (dela). Since the staff was very friendly and open (and previous attempts to search the online database were not fruitful), I preferred to ask their advice on documents related to my dissertation topic. You will need to fill out an ordering form (zakaz) that you can get at the staff desk. Here, as per usual procedure, you have to state your name, your research subject, the number of the fond and opis’, and additionally, the number and title of the file (delo) you would like to order. With each order (one order per day), you can list up to ten files. Explaining that you will be in St. Petersburg for a shorter period of time may allow you to order up to twenty files per day. Normally it takes two business days for you to receive the materials. Since the reading room only opens to researchers three days each week, your materials will usually be available on the following opening day after you submit your order.

Ordering copies can take up to fourteen days. The price for one paper copy begins at 146 rubles per page (if you can wait fourteen days), depending on the size of the documents and the processing time. You can also order a scan of the pages to be copied, but this is quite expensive, which is why I preferred to copy the files by hand. Cameras are not allowed, but you can take your computer and a pen, etc. into the reading room. A full list of all copy regulations, prices, and exemptions, along with reading room rules and procedures, can be found through the archive’s website (see above).

CGAIPD is housed, along with the Central State Archive of Film, Photo, and Sound Documents of St. Petersburg (Центральный государственный архив кинофотофонодокументов Санкт-Петербурга), at Ul. Tavricheskaia 39. (Be aware that the entrance to Tavricheskaia 39 is on Shplanernaia Street.) To reach the archive, take metro no. 1 and get out at Chernyshevskaia. From here you can walk for about fifteen to twenty minutes, or you can cut down your walking time by taking one of the several buses going in the direction of the archive. However, there is no bus going directly from the metro station to the archive: in front of the entrance of CGAIPD is a bus station, but the buses (nos. 54, 74, 136) do not go to Chernyshevskaia metro station. I always preferred to walk to the archive. There is an English bakery right at the entrance of the Tauride Garden, where you can get your morning coffee and, if it is not midwinter, enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the beautiful park before you head into the dusty archive. If your research involves documents relating to the Petrograd/Leningrad Party branches in the 1920s, you may also enjoy taking a look at the memorial plates on nearby houses, especially on Furshtatskaia Street.

In conclusion, I was impressed by the pleasant working conditions in CGAIPD, the helpful staff, and the comparatively easy access to documents. I would advise anyone who plans a research stay at RGASPI in Moscow also to explore its smaller, regional sibling in St. Petersburg. You will be amazed by the variety and quantity of materials waiting to be discovered.

Christina Till
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Chinese Language and Culture
University of Hamburg
christina.till@studium.uni-hamburg.de

Image: Photograph by Christina Till.

Leave a Reply