The Difficulty Publishing Scientific Works in the Tzar’s Russia


Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.

Rated PG-13

When Russia conquered much of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, many Jews switched from living in a relatively enlightened democratic society to an oppressive monarchy. They did not cross the border. The border crossed them. Russian Jews eventually developed a more insular society in the oppressive environment of the Tzar’s Russia. Nevertheless, Russian Jews overcame great challenges to publish scientific writings under the Tzar’s rule.

Dr. Israel Zinberg’s 1915 book, “Di Geshikhte Fun Literatur By Yidn”, is a historic account of Jewish literature. Published in Vilna before Stalin’s police arrested the author and shipped him to a prison where he died, the nearly completed manuscript was translated into English and published under the tittle “A History of Jewish Literature” in 1978. One chapter in it describes the problems mid-19th Century Jewish writers overcame to produce and distribute scientific publications under in the Tzar’s domain.

First, the publisher had to apply for permission to start a new periodical. The application had to prove that there was a demand for the media, something minority groups have more trouble proving when petitioning an unsympathetic government. If the government approved the application, each edition of the periodical went to a government censor, a process that could involve long trips, before the invention of a car, to traverse the distance between the publisher and the few cities that contains censors.

At the censor’s office, the government official redacted any parts of the work deemed unacceptable. Then the publisher had to bring the approved content inside the Jewish community for sale. At that time, after generations of occupation, the Jewish community had become wary of outside ideas. Rabbis might not look kindly upon the publication, and community members might follow a rabbi’s lead. Considering the challenges, it is amazing that scientific works broke through the boundaries to bring the Haskalah into Russia.

Modern technology has greatly streamlined the publication process. So has a new legal climate that respects freedom of the press. Content providers can collaborate remotely and publish their work online before government authorities see it. This facilitates the open communication, also known as intercourse, that makes memetic evolution possible. With any luck, these technological wonders and political freedoms will be available to many future generations, because on a meta level, freedom of the press is essential for the creation and preservation of all scientific and technological knowledge.

After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. His LGBT erotic e-book launched in the summer of 2015.