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Historical informatics

Urban History in academic dissertation researches in Russia (1991-2021)

Bakanov Sergey Alekseevich

ORCID: 0000-0002-0746-8912

Doctor of History

Associate Professor, Department of History of Russia and Foreign Countries, Chelyabinsk State University

454001, Russia, Chelyabinskaya oblast', g. Chelyabinsk, ul. Brat'ev Kashirinykh, 129, korpus 3

Khamitova Kamilya Alikovna

Postgraduate student, Department of History of Russia and Foreign Countries, Chelyabinsk State University

454001, Russia, Chelyabinskaya oblast', g. Chelyabinsk, ul. Brat'ev Kashirinykh, 129, korpus 3








Abstract: The database "Dissertations on Urban History" was created in order to study the trends in the development of Russian historiography in the field of historical urban studies in 1991-2021. The source of information for the database is the electronic catalog of academic researches (dissertations) of the Russian State Library, posted on the official website of the organization www.rsl.ru. More than 25 thousand dissertation researches were made during this period. 523 dissertations were selected by expert means, whose topics corresponded to the field of urban history. For further work, an electronic database was created, including 6 bibliographic and 7 analytical attributes. To analyze the database, an approach was applied based on calculating the frequency of occurrence of individual keywords characterizing each of the following attributes: author, title of the work, year, code of scientific specialty, academic degree, chronological period, territorial scope, scale of research optics, thematic direction. According to the results of the work carried out, it was possible to establish that despite some conjunctural similarities with the Western tradition, Russian authors are distinguished by increased attention to the historical period of the second half of the XIX - early XX centuries, academic research focus on the problems of social history.


urban history, quantitative historiography, historical urbanism, bibliographic database, database of dissertations, dynamics of dissertation defenses, historical science, information resource, dissertator, dissertation

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

The article was prepared with the financial support of the Foundation for Advanced Scientific Research of Chelyabinsk State University.

Urban history as an independent thematic area of historical research appeared in Russian historiography in the 1920s [1]. However, over the next six decades, the popularity of this topic among historians remained relatively low. This is partly due to the political conjuncture, which forced researchers to choose more relevant, as it seemed at the time, historical topics. On the other hand, the urbanization process unfolding just in these years in the Soviet Union was perceived by scientists as a modern phenomenon, the study of which by means of historical science is not quite productive. Therefore, it was not historians, but economic geographers, demographers and urban planners who were at the forefront of urbanization research. Already in the 1980s it was clear that Russian social scientists did not know the society in which they live well enough, but the dominance of one methodological school (Marxist) until the collapse of the USSR restrained theoretical search in other directions. The methodological pluralism of the 1990s opened up opportunities for a comprehensive study of those topics and subjects that were previously not in demand.

Since the 1990s, urban history in Russia has been gradually gaining popularity, especially against the background of increasing public interest in urban issues in general. However, institutionally, this thematic area in our country has not yet become an independent scientific direction. Rather, we can talk about the emergence of some prerequisites for this in the form of the organization, since the late 1990s, of periodic scientific events, such as: the All-Russian Scientific and Practical seminar "Problems of Culture of Russian cities" [2, 3, 4-7], the All-Russian Scientific Conference "Urbanization and Cultural life of Siberia" in Omsk [2, 3], the All-Russian scientific and Practical conference "City, Society, environment: history and vectors of development" in Nizhny Tagil[8], the publication of thematic collections and monographs [9-13] or the opening of master's programs in a number of Russian universities (Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, Tyumen, Chelyabinsk, Yakutsk) historical urban studies. For comparison, in Western historiography, historical research on urban topics could take shape back in the 1970s into an independent and quite influential scientific direction "Urban history", which has a developed infrastructure in the form of specialized departments and research centers, professional research associations and industry journals.

In 2014, S.A. Bakanov analyzed the topics of scientific articles in advanced specialized English-language journals devoted to the problem field "Urban history" on the pages of the journal "Historical Informatics". To solve this problem, the author created a bibliographic database, which includes as a unit of analysis 2344 publications in three industry journals for forty years of their activity [14]. The analysis made it possible to identify some stable trends in the conjuncture of research topics characteristic of American, British and Canadian national historiographies.

The purpose of this article is to study the problem field and national thematic trends in Russian urban history. To implement it, the same digital approach to the analysis of historiography was used as in the 2014 study, but with one significant amendment. Since there were no specialized journals on urban history created in Russia, then as an empirical material for the formation of a comparable array of data, not articles in journals were involved, but abstracts of dissertations defended on historical and urban studies in Russia for thirty years from 1991 to 2021.

It should be noted that the study of Russian historiography of urban history with the involvement of dissertations as a historiographical source has already been tested by Anna Mazanik in 2015 [15], who analyzed about a hundred candidate and doctoral dissertations in this thematic area. She came to the conclusion that the authors of the dissertations at the beginning of the XXI century sought to get away from the traditional Soviet historiography approaches to the study of cities and actively borrowed the methodological principles of approaches common in the West.

The choice of the bibliographic description of the dissertations' abstracts as the main source required some adjustment of the methodology of work. So, instead of a complete inclusion of publications in the database (as was the case in the 2014 study), thematic selection was undertaken. The source of information was the electronic catalog of dissertations of the Russian State Library, posted on its official website www.rsl.ru . More than 25 thousand records of dissertation research defended in the period under review on historical sciences, as well as on the history and theory of architecture were reviewed. From this volume, 523 dissertations were selected by expert means, whose topics corresponded to the field of urban history. For their further analysis, an electronic database "Dissertations on Urban History" was created, including 6 bibliographic and 7 analytical attributes. The first group includes variables present in the bibliographic description of the source: author, title of the work, year of protection, code of scientific specialty, degree sought, place of protection. The second group of variables was constructed based on the extraction of analytical categories from the title of the dissertation, acting as accounting units in the subsequent analysis. Among them: the chronological period to which the dissertation is devoted; the territorial framework (both in the country and regional context, and in the context of mentioning specific cities in the title of the work); the scale of research optics (macro-, meso- or micro-level of research); thematic direction (social, political, economic, cultural history and etc.); problems of research. Since it was often difficult to attribute the title of a particular dissertation work to any one thematic area or to reduce it to one problem, additional variables were introduced for a more complete attribution of these categories. For example, if work on a thematic area could be attributed to both social and economic history, then in addition to the "Subject" attribute, an additional attribute "Subject 2" was introduced, and in some cases "Subject 3". When analyzing the frequency of occurrence, the totals for these attributes were summarized for each thematic area.

Out of the total array of dissertations on historical sciences, the share of works on urban history turned out to be negligible only 2.5%. However, from decade to decade, the popularity of this direction has steadily grown. So, if in the 1990s its share reached only 1.2%, then in the 2000s it was already 2.3%, and in the 2010s it was 3.8%. According to data for 2021, the share of works on urban history has already exceeded 5.5% of the total number of defenses in historical sciences.

Fig. 1. Dynamics of dissertation defenses on urban history

in Russia in 1991-2021 (pcs.)

Calculated from the database "Dissertations on Urban History"

In absolute terms, the dynamics of dissertation defenses on topics related to urban history is shown in Figure 1. The graph clearly shows three stages in the development of this thematic area. At the first stage (1991-1998), historical urban studies was just beginning to receive recognition in dissertation councils, and the scientific schools associated with it were passing the stage of their formation. Despite the fact that the total number of defenses in the country was decreasing, from 3 to 9 works were defended annually according to urban history. At the second stage (1999-2016), a cyclical component with a high amplitude of fluctuations in the range from 13 to 35 protections per year was observed in the dynamics of protections. Alternation of ups and downs in the number of defenses occurred every 3-4 years. Such periodicity can be explained: on the one hand by the time cycle of preparation of the dissertation research, and on the other by a relatively small number of scientific centers where urban history has successfully developed. The third stage (2017-2021) is characterized by a significant drop in the number of works to 10-14 per year. According to the authors, this drop is due to the delayed reaction of the system to the new requirements of the Higher Attestation Commission of the Russian Federation for dissertations valid since 2014. In addition, two years of restrictive measures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic also contributed to this dynamics.

Of the studies included in the sample, 88% (459 papers) they make up dissertations for the degree of candidate of Sciences and 12% (64 works) are doctoral dissertations. In terms of gender, urban topics attract more female researchers (303 papers versus 220 prepared by male authors). According to scientific specialties, dissertations were distributed as follows: national history (07.00.02) 385 works (74%); general history (07.00.03) -48 works (9%), history and theory of architecture (05.23.20) 35 works (7%); archeology (07.00.06) 23 works, historiography, source studies and methods of historical research (07.00.09) 20 works; ethnography, ethnology and anthropology (07.00.07) 11 works. In addition, the sample included 3 abstracts on the specialty 07.00.10 history of science and technology and 1 work on 07.00.01 history of the CPSU.


number of protections


number of protections









Nizhniy Novgorod
























Table 1. Distribution of dissertations on urban history

at the place of their protection

Calculated from the database "Dissertations on Urban History"

As can be seen from Table 1. Over the three decades studied, 20% of all dissertations on urban history (every fifth work) were defended in the dissertation councils of the capital. Among the regional centers, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg stand out in terms of the number of protections. In total, defenses on urban history were awarded in 56 cities of Russia, which allows us to conclude that there is widespread scientific recognition of this topic.

The study of the frequency of occurrence of the territorial framework stated in the titles of dissertation research was carried out at three levels continental-national, regional and urban. 87% of studies (457 papers) anyway, they were dedicated to cities located on the territory of Russia and the former USSR. The history of the European city accounted for 8% (43 works), the Asian 4% (19 works). Two more works focused on the Latin American and African city.

The region under study

Number of works

Volga area


Central Russia and the Black Earth Region




South of Russia, Crimea and the North Caucasus


North and Northwest




Far East


Table 2. Distribution of dissertations on urban history by geographical scope of the study

Calculated from the database "Dissertations on Urban History"

In the regional context, only the works localized by the territory of Russia were analyzed. This was done for 365 works whose names included an indication of a region or specific cities (see Table 2.). In some cases, the name could cover several regions. The leaders in the number of works that have a twofold superiority over other regions of the country were the regions of the Volga region, Central Russia and Siberia.

The names of individual cities were present in the titles of 231 works. A total of 122 cities were named, including 92 Russian and 30 foreign. The most "popular" city among researchers turned out to be St. Petersburg (Petrograd, Leningrad), which was found in the titles of dissertations 28 times. Next comes Moscow 23 works. These two capitals account for about 10% of all works on historical urbanism. Kazan is followed by a significant margin 9 dissertations, Nizhny Novgorod 6. Krasnodar, Derbent, Kolomna, Veliky Novgorod, Volgograd, Tyumen, Arkhangelsk, Yaroslavl and Tomsk are mentioned 4 times each. Another 11 cities were mentioned 3 times Ulan-Ude, Vladikavkaz, Kaffa, Kizlyar, Kolomna, Murom, Novosibirsk, Sevastopol, Tambov, Tomsk and Ufa.

Chronological framework

Number of works

Cities of the ancient world


Medieval town


The city of modern times (XVI the first half of the XIX century.)


The city of the second half of the XIX early XX centuries .


The city of the twentieth century (1917-1991)


Modern City 1991-2021


Table 3. Distribution of dissertations on urban history according to the chronological framework of the study

Calculated from the database "Dissertations on Urban History"

Since the absolute majority of research on urban history in our country was focused on the development of Russian cities, to a large extent the chronological framework indicated in the titles of dissertations was linked by the authors of dissertations with the chronology of national history. The largest number of works (218) fell on the study of the historical period of the second half of the XIX early XX centuries. (from the great reforms of the 1860s to the revolution in Russia in 1917). Such increased attention can be explained by the fact that it was during this period that both the formation of the local government system in Russia and the beginning of the urbanization process took place. The second most popular is the study of the phenomenon of the Soviet city. (177 works falling within the chronological range of 1917-1991) And there is an obvious predominance of works devoted to the first half of the twentieth century (121 works). For comparison, there are only 56 dissertations in the second half of the period. It should be noted that in relation to the twentieth century, only 9 works explore the history of cities outside of Russia. Of these, 6 are dedicated to an Asian city, two to a European and 1 to an African one.

The city of modern times is given attention in 123 works. Moreover, this attention is unevenly distributed over the centuries. Thus, only 12 dissertations deal with the events of the XVI century, 31 papers the XVII century, 47 papers the XVIII century and 65 dissertations the first half of the XIX century. Works on this period are characterized by a cross-cutting theme spanning several centuries. The cities of the ancient world were mainly studied in the framework of the scientific specialty general history (9 works out of 13).In relation to the cities of the Middle Ages, there is also a noticeable predominance of works on general history (41 out of 57).The Russian medieval city is reflected in the names of only 8 works. It is noteworthy that 16 out of 23 works on urban archaeology specialize specifically on the medieval city Russian, Golden Horde and Byzantine. Attention to the processes taking place in a modern city is not great yet only 10 works.

According to the scale of research optics, the topics of dissertations can be divided into three levels: micro-level, when the research is devoted to a specific city; meso-level, when processes affecting groups of cities united by territorial or typological principle are analyzed; macro-level, to which research on continental and subcontinental (all-Russian) scales were attributed, as well as work focused on solving theoretical issues of urban history. The analysis of the database has shown that mainly the interest of historical urban studies focuses on micro- (236 works) and meso- (238 works) levels, whereas macro-processes are given attention only in 49 studies. A fairly common approach in research on historical urbanism is the construction of typologies of cities. This approach allows researchers to focus on studying specific types of cities. For example, county towns were studied in 19 dissertations, provincial towns in 14, fortress towns in 4, service towns in 4, small towns in 8, resort towns in 5, closed (nuclear) cities in 6, townships in 3.

Based on the keywords stated in the titles of the works, dissertations on urban history can be attributed to a number of thematic areas that are actively developing both in Russian and in world historical science. The most popular is the topic related to the complex of issues of social history. 204 works were devoted to her, in one way or another. Political history was reflected in 157 dissertations, cultural history in 124, economic history in 80. At the same time, about a quarter of the dissertations under consideration cover two thematic areas at once, focusing on socio-economic or socio-cultural processes.


Number of works

History of local government


The history of urban everyday life and urban life


Urban culture, mentality and lifestyle


Urban planning and urban planning


Social and ethnic composition of the urban population


Urban demographics and urban family


Urban economy


Urban space and urban environment


Urban architecture


Urban Archaeology


Table 4. Problems of research on urban history

Calculated from the database "Dissertations on Urban History"

The most popular problems among Russian researchers of urban history are related to the formation and activities of urban local self-government bodies (76 works), and the absolute majority of them were focused on the pre-revolutionary period of history. Urban self-government in the Soviet period was reflected only in 7 works. In second place in popularity were topics aimed at studying urban everyday life (59 works), including stories about the leisure of citizens, urban life and forms of deviant behavior of urban residents, etc. Also in the top three there are studies on the history of urban culture in its various manifestations (57 works) from the study of the mentality and spirituality of citizens (13 works) to the private aspects of theatrical life in a particular city.

Architectural and urban planning plots traditionally occupy a significant place in the scientific direction of urban history. In total, 93 dissertations are devoted to them, which make up about 17% of the total number of works. Including 35 dissertations on the specialty history and theory of architecture. This cluster combines subjects that affect the issues of urban planning policy and the planning structure of cities (38 works), urban topography, the formation of urban space and urban environment (29 works), as well as the actual historical and architectural issues (25 works).

Questions of the social composition of the urban population are also traditional for urban history (35 works). In this cluster, ethnic issues are raised in 7 papers, and gender in 8. 30 dissertations, including 6 works on the history of the urban family, were devoted to socio-demographic processes. Other problems of social history turned out to be less in demand by researchers. Thus, the process of urbanization was the focus of 14 works, the housing issue also 14, and, for example, health issues only 6.

As mentioned above, of all the thematic areas, the economic history of the city turned out to be the least representative in terms of the number of works. But this cluster also has its own leaders. These include issues of urban development (30 works), trade (15 works) and urban industry (9 works). But urban finance attracted the attention of only two researchers.

Summing up, it should be noted that in the last thirty years, urban history in Russia has experienced a certain rise, characterized both by an increase in the actual number of dissertation studies in this area, and their share of the total number of works on historical sciences. The opportunism of this scientific direction is confirmed by the appearance of 12 studies focusing on the historiographical reflection of urban history issues.

Russian historical urbanism is characterized by: 1) the absolute dominance of interest in the Russian city, which fits perfectly into global trends, since American, British and Canadian historiography of urban history also remain deeply national in their problems [14]; 2) increased attention to the historical period of the second half of the XIX early XX centuries, which is explained by the better development of the source base and methodological tools for this period, as well as the influence of the interest of scientific schools that have developed in the field of urban history; 3) the predominance of studies with regional and local expansion, with a relatively small number of works with all-Russian or continental themes; 4) focus on the problems of social history and related subjects of socio-political, socio-economic and socio-cultural history; 5) a certain isolation of the history of the Russian city from the history of cities in other regions of the world, manifested both in the specifics of the chronology of Russian studies and in the absence of attempts to study the phenomenon of the city comparatively; 6) a relatively small number of works of a source and theoretical and methodological nature, which, however, is also visible in Western historiography; 7) Due to its specificity, Russian historical urbanism is not characterized by attention to topics that are acutely relevant in Western Urban History, such as: racial problems (one of the most popular topics in American historiography), problems of colonial cities (an important part of British historiography) or cultural differences between regions (a characteristic topic for Canadian historiography).

In conclusion, we have to state that despite the obvious successes and the growth of research interest in this thematic area, urban history in Russia has not yet become a fully formed and independent direction due to the underdevelopment of its scientific infrastructure - the absence of specialized departments, research centers, industry journals and professional associations.

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2. Urban culture of Siberia: history and modernity: Collection of scientific papers / Ed. Editor D. A. Alisov. - Omsk: Publishing House of OmGPU, 1997. 153 p.
3. Urban culture of Siberia: dynamics of cultural and historical processes: Collection of scientific papers / Ed. Editor D. A. Alisov. - Omsk: OmGPU Publishing House, 2001. - 201 p.
4. Problems of the culture of Russian cities: Materials of the Second All-Russian scientific and practical seminar. Omsk: Siberian branch of the Russian Institute of Cultural Studies, 1996. Part 1. 184 p.
5. Problems of the culture of Russian cities: Materials of the Second All-Russian scientific and practical seminar. Omsk: Siberian branch of the Russian Institute of Cultural Studies, 1996. Part 2. 144 p.
6. PProblems of the culture of Russian cities: Materials of the Third All-Russian scientific and practical seminar. Omsk: Publishing house of OmGPU, 1997. - 185 p.
7. Problems of the culture of Russian cities: Materials of the Fifth All-Russian Scientific and Practical Seminar / Ed. Ed. D. A. Alisov. - Omsk: "Publishing house "Nauka"", 2004. - 210 p.
8. City, society, environment: history and vectors of development: materials of the All-Russian Scientific and Practical Conference. Nizhny Tagil, September 1415, 2017 / ed. ed. O. V. Ryzhkova. - Nizhny Tagil: NTGSPI (f) RGPPU, 2017. - 280 p.
9. Goncharov Yu. M., Everyday life of the townspeople of Siberia in the second half of the 19th - early 20th centuries: a textbook / Yu. M. Goncharov. - Barnaul: AZBUKA, 2012. - 214 p., illustration.
10. City and Village in European Russia: One Hundred Years of Changes: A Monographic Collection. - M.: OGI, 2001 (Series OGI / Polit.ru). 560 p.
11. Degtyarev D.S., Suburban areas of the cities of the Tomsk province in the second half of the 19th - early 20th centuries: monograph /D. S. Degtyarev. - Barnaul: AZBUKA, 2012. - 176 p.
12. Historical urban studies: the past and present of the city / Collection of scientific articles of the All-Russian Conference with international participation (Surgut, SurGU, November 14, 2014). - Kurgan: LLC "Kurgan Printing House", 2015. - 820 p.
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14. Bakanov S.A. "Urban History" and conjuncture trends: a quantitative study of global historiography // Historical informatics. 23. 2014, pp. 7480.
15. Mazanik, A. A. Research in urban history: new research trends in doctoral dissertations in Russia since 2000.Urban History 42 (2015): 509520

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The reviewed work is devoted to the development of Russian historical urbanism in the latest chronological period (1991-2021). The aim is to study the problem field and national thematic trends in Russian urban history, as historical urbanism is often referred to in the Russian historiographical tradition. The study of these historiographical problems is conducted on a solid source base. The paper analyzes 523 abstracts of candidate's and doctoral dissertations on the subject of historical urbanism, selected from more than 25 thousand records of dissertation research on historical sciences, as well as on the history and theory of architecture. The source information was combined into a database that includes 6 bibliographic and 7 analytical attributes. The relevance of the research is determined by the general interest in urban history, which is manifested in the national historical science at the present time. Last but not least, this is due to the expansion of the methodological and technical field and the arsenal of research methods, including new information technologies, which is reflected in the most reviewed work. The scientific novelty of the article lies in the fact that for the first time data on the main trends in the development of Russian historical urbanism are presented over a 30year historical period on the basis of a very representative source base, which made it possible, using database technology, to draw reliable historiographical conclusions. Although the article is not externally structured (perhaps due to its relatively small volume), its logical plan and structure are well felt when reading. The presentation begins with a statement of the problem and a very brief overview of the main trends in the development of the study of urban history in Russia. Further, several works preceding the reviewed article related to the study of the historiography of the area under consideration are mentioned, and a description of the source base and research methodology is given. In particular, a brief description of the created historiographical database, its structure and main attributes is given. Based on the presented material, some general trends in the development of urban history are characterized, 3 stages of its development are highlighted. The analysis of dissertation defenses by place of defense, regions, chronology, etc. was carried out. It was concluded that the topic of dissertations was mainly related to the development of Russian cities. The main problem of dissertation research is highlighted, in which the history of local government is in the first place. A significant place of architectural and urban planning plots is also noted. The main substantive features of modern Russian historical urbanism are highlighted. In conclusion, it is noted that the area under consideration loses a lot due to the underdevelopment of the relevant scientific infrastructure (research centers, thematic journals, etc.). The bibliography of the article (15 positions) contains all the necessary works for understanding the article. Controversial issues are not raised in the article due to its specific nature. The article, however, despite all its positive qualities, can only be published after some revision. It concerns mainly the methodological part. Given the methodological orientation of the journal "Historical Informatics", I would like to see a more detailed description of the database created during the research, which is important for readers conducting similar research. In addition, it is necessary to subtract the article, since it contains some errors in the coordination of words and phrases. After completion, the article can be published. Comments of the editor-in-chief dated 05.05.2022: "The author has fully taken into account the comments of the reviewers and corrected the article. The revised article is recommended for publication."