Ukrainian Peasant during the crisis of serfdom (strokes of the mental portrait)

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Yu. Prysiazhniuk


Abstract. Introduction. The author of the article addresses the problem of the world of Ukrainian peasants, who in the middle of the XIX century were under the rule of the Romanov monarchy. As you know, this period went down in history as the «crisis of serfdom». It has received a fairly complete and comprehensive coverage in historiography, but the current scientific interpretations do not suit modern inquisitive researchers. They are not satisfied with their schematism and stereotypes. After all, even common economic theories (such as the well-known principle of economic determinism) do not answer the questions. The life of patriarchal (in other words, traditional or pre-modern) peasants was very different from those norms and orders that were soon inherent in the people of urban society. It was they who created the theories and schemes of explanation mentioned above. In fact, this circumstance denies the need to remain captive to Marxist or some other mega-theoretical views, and encourages us to explain the peasant world with the help of more flexible scientific approaches, including interdisciplinary.

Purpose. The author wants to clarify some aspects of the mental portrait of a typical Ukrainian peasant of the Naddniprianshchyna during the crisis of serfdom and claims for its more comprehensive and accurate general characteristics.

Results. To reproduce (construct) the mental portrait of the historical community (segments of the population) is an extremely difficult task for the researcher. The problem here is not only that it lacks the appropriate tools - concepts and categories developed and tested by science. In fact, it takes no less effort to try to understand the world of existence, which must first be imagined and then described. So, setting himself such an ambitious task, the author realized that even a partial positive result should ensure success. The main emphasis is on clarifying the characterology of Ukrainian peasants at the level (background) of their daily and microhistorical existence. The key is the opinion (hypothesis) about the dominant life priorities (imperatives), which were primarily guided by the representatives of this segment of the population. In general, they can be described as such aspects of life as folk religiosity, daily social worries, household chores (efforts, difficulties), and above all - domestic (mostly family) worries. At the same time, the preservation of the patriarchal foundations of life did not mean that the peasants were outside the processes of modernization, as well as their (non) involvement in «big politics». Another thing is that these answers were «barely noticeable» and had very little to do with the modern nature of the events or changes themselves.

Conclusion. Concerning such important chronotope aspects of the life of a Ukrainian peasant in serfdom as distances (roads), diseases (epidemics), as well as numerous risks that awaited a person in childhood and throughout life, we came to the general conclusion that this «mental portrait» was not doomed to eternal immutability. The figure of Taras Shevchenko serves as a convincing confirmation of this.


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Author Biography

Yu. Prysiazhniuk

Prysiazhniuk Yuriy – Doctor of Sciences (History), Professor of the Department of History of Ukraine, Bohdan Khmelnytsky National University of Cherkasy


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