Granovskii, Timofei Nikolaevich

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Granovskii, Timofei Nikolaevich


Born Mar. 9 (21), 1813. in Orel; died Oct. 4 (16), 1855, in Moscow. Russian historian, public figure, and representative of the left wing of the bourgeois-liberal movement. He came from the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry).

Granovskii graduated from the department of law at St. Petersburg University (1835). He was professor of universal history at Moscow University from 1839 to 1855. Russian reality and an enthusiasm for the freedom-loving creations of Pushkin and Schiller influenced the formation of Granovskii’s antiserfdom position. From 1837 to 1839, Granovskii studied at the University of Berlin under such scholars as L. von Ranke, F. C. von Savigny, and K. Ritter and studied the philosophy of Hegel. In 1839 at Moscow University he gave the first course in Russia on the history of the Middle Ages in Western Europe and laid the foundations of his scholarly research in this field. He belonged to the circle of the Westerners, actively opposing the reactionary ideology of and carrying on a polemic against the Slavophiles. In this debate he emphasized the common historical development of Russia and Western Europe.

Granovskii strove to link scholarship with life and to make it serve social interests. He demonstrated in his lectures the regular and progressive nature of historical progress and led his listeners to the conclusion that serfdom was transient and doomed. He conceived of progress idealistically and saw its manifestation above all in the development of ideas, in the spread of enlightenment, and in the “moral perfection of man.” Beginning with his very first courses, Granovskii, using material from past history, used his university chair to criticize despotism and the violence directed against the peasantry under serfdom. While accepting Hegel’s dialectic he still rejected certain reactionary features of his philosophical system: he opposed nationalism and racism, and, contrary to Hegel, he emphasized the historical role of Slavdom and the necessity of studying the life of the Oriental peoples. The democratic tendencies in Granovskii’s work and his “making propaganda with history” served as the basis for his rapprochement with A. I. Herzen and N. P. Ogarev even though Granovskii never attained the level of their materialist and revolutionary ideas. In 1843–44, Granovskii gave his first public course, which Herzen characterized as an important event in the life of the society; his second course was given in 1845–16 and his third in 1851 (published in 1852).

As a historian and educator, Granovskii conquered his audience not only with his oratorial talent and profound interpretation of historical problems but also with the ideological implications of his lectures. He stressed the necessity of developing a history of the people, one of “the most vital problems of contemporary scholarship.” Granovskii linked the crisis of the late Roman Empire with its poverty and “pauperism,” the landlessness of its peasants, and its slave uprisings and coloni rebellions. Vivid pictures of feudal life and tales of the harsh fate of slaves or of French villeins prodded the audience to a comparison with the Russian countryside under serfdom.

While professing an interest in the history of the medieval city, Granovskii stressed its internal social contradictions. He studied so-called transitional epochs with special interest. In his lectures of 1845 he noted the inevitability of such historical periods in which the contradiction “can be eliminated only by force.” At the same time. Granovskii feared definitive revolutionary action by the people; polemicizing against Belinskii he showed a preference for the Girondists over the Jacobins, that is, for the forces hindering revolution rather than for the revolutionaries. This contradiction was expressed in his appraisal of the role of the state in the development of society, in his idealization of individual government figures, and in his efforts to see chivalry and the church as forces capable of softening the antagonism between feudal lords and peasants. At the same time, Granovskii carefully studied constitutional forms of government, opposed monarchical despotism, and exposed the Catholic Church for stifling enlightenment and science.

At the end of the 1840’s, Granovskii experienced a creative renewal. The polemical character of his lectures increased, as did his attention to problems of social and economic history and to the people as the creator of the wealth “of the few” and as the enemy of national enslavement. Granovskii was repelled by the violence of the reactionaries against the French proletariat in 1848. His defense of the enserfed peasantry and opposition to the degradation of the human personality and to the persecution of free thought resounded with special force during the period of reaction at the end of the 1840’s. “After meeting Granovskii at the subdepart-ment,” wrote Herzen, “one’s heart became cleansed. ’All is not lost if he continues to speak out,’ each thought, and breathed freely” (Sobr. soch., vol. 9. 1956, p. 122).

Granovskii sought to resolve independently many theoretical problems. In his speech of 1852 entitled “On the Contemporary State and Significance of Universal History.” Granovskii sought a new foundation for his methodology of history while still remaining an idealist; however, he criticized Hegel for his “arbitrary construction of universal history” and posed the problem of the influence of natural conditions on social life. In his work On the Tribal Customs of the Ancient Germans (1855), which is still of scholarly importance today, Granovskii polemicized against German chauvinist historiography; his analysis of the ancient German commune stressed the common development of different tribes. Granovskii’s studies were highly esteemed by Cher-nyshevskii and Herzen. Chernyshevskii saw in Granovskii an original investigator who opened up new paths in scholarship, “an enlightener of his nation.” Herzen, who in Past and Thoughts left a vivid picture of Granovskii, noted that Granovskii’s subdepartment during his tenure grew “into the tribune of social protest.” Granovskii exerted a great influence on the development of Russian historical scholarship.


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“Pis’ma T. N. Granovskogo.” Zven’ia, 1935 [no.] 5; 1936 (no.) 6.
Lektsii po istorii pozdnego srednevekov’ia. Moscow. 1971.
Lektsii T. N. Granovskogo po istorii srednevekov’ia. Moscow. 1961.


Vetrinskii, Ch. (V. E. Cheshikhin). T. N. Granovskii i ego vremia, 2nd ed. St. Petersburg, 1905.
Kosminskii, E. A. “Zhizn’ i deiatel’nost’ T. N. Granovskogo.” Vestnik MGU 1956, no. 4.
Asinovskaia, S. A. Iz istorii peredovykh idei v russkoi medievistike (T. N. Granovskii). Moscow, 1955.
Alpatov, M. A. “Trudy T. N. Granovskogo.” In Ocherki istorii isloricheskoi nauki v SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow, 1955.
T. N. Granovskii (collection of articles). Moscow, 1970.
T. N. Granovskii. Bibliografiia (1828–1967). Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.