Follow the tracks

The effects of industrialization and railroads on social and economic change.

Bashkir Switchman
The Bashkir Switchman

Стрелочник башкир. The “Bashkir Switchman”. He works for hours on the railroad, participating in a seemingly mundane task, that marks a pivotal point for the history of Russian technological advancements and geographical changes.

This image was photographed in the summer of 1910 by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin Gorskii as he traveled along the Samara- Zlatoust Railroad (now called the Ufa-Chelyabinsk line) by the scenic Ural Mountains. This Bashkir man is a switch operator and guard for a track section near the settlement at Ust-Katav(present day Chelyabinsk Oblast). This man is most likely from the village called “Ekh’ia”, located nearby the train tracks. He is wearing traditional Bashkir clothes, a felt hat, and a belt with tools. These tools include a tin cup, long knife, and a horn for signaling, everything essential to his work.

Russia, especially at this time, was a vast empire stretching across thousands of miles. That sort of separation provides for diversity in its citizens. The Bashkirs are closer to being a Turkish ethnic group, sharing more traits such as religion and language than with most Russians. Even the picture was taken closer to modern-day Kazakhstan and nowhere near the heart of Russia where one might find a “typical” Russian. The subject of this image is two-fold. Yes there is a railroad in the center of the image but off to the side is the other subject of this image, the Bashkir man, who is different both in culture and appearances from the photographer.

This is why industrialization was so important. The development of the railroad system in Russia provided for easier access to people from all over the country. The country was large and finally there was an easier way to get around and truly see the land and the people who inhabit it. Railroads connected the population.

Industrialization also provided jobs for the lower class. Essentially it created a working class in the social system of Russia. This man might have otherwise not had a job. As we discussed in class, the policies in place at this time set in motion a future revolution. More workers meant more voices that yearned change. What they had would no longer be enough. The workers finally had both a bit of power and a large enough crowd backing them to make their move. This was a catalyst to the 1917 Russian Revolution.

*This post earned a “Comrade’s Corner” award from the editorial team.

10 thoughts on “Follow the tracks

  1. You made good points on why industrialization was so important in such a big region, I agree that the development of the railway systems brought about a sense of connection. While there was some conflict in the country about the development of these railways, the railways brought opportunity and like you said, ultimately created a working class through industrialization.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the different cultures, traditions, and customs showcase just how separated from each other they were. Connecting the citizens through the railways should everyone who else was a part of Russia.


  2. Really interesting post! I like what you wrote about how the job of the Bashkir switchman seems monotonous, but was actually a huge step forward for Russia in terms of industrialization, and eventually revolution.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow I am glad to see your perspective on the industrialization of the revolution in Russia. This picture is very interesting to show the development throughout the rural parts of Russia.


  4. Awesome post Alicja! I really appreciate you discussing the ethnic diversity within the empire. Also something you did on your post that I did as well is really analyze the clothing individuals are wearing in the photos. Often times they say a lot about the individuals trade of work and and in this case gives us insight on cultural ties as well. Great post!


    1. Thank you for your comment Mame! I wish there was more information and research provided about the clothing, I wonder if this was actually a uniform in that region or just typical clothing.


  5. The juxtaposition of the industrial railroad with a Central Asian with what I would consider rather simplistic tools for a railroad switchman. As you say, the cultural differential between what was happening in Moscow and in some more Asiatic communities.


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