Kostomarov, Nikolai Ivanovich

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kostomarov, Nikolai Ivanovich


Born May 4 (16), 1817, in the village of lurasovka, in present-day OPkhovatka Raion, Voronezh Oblast; died Apr. 7 (19), 1885, in St. Petersburg. Ukrainian and Russian historian, ethnographer, writer, and critic.

Kostomarov’s father was a Russian landowner and his mother a Ukrainian serf. In 1837 he graduated from the University of Kharkov. His social, political, and historical views developed under the influence of I. I. Sreznevskii, D. N. Bantysh-Kamenskii, and N. A. Markovich. In 1841 he presented his master’s dissertation, Concerning the Causes and Character of the Church Union in Western Russia, which was banned and destroyed because of its deviation from the official interpretation of the problem. In 1844 he defended another dissertation, On the Historical Significance of Russian Folk Poetry.

In 1846 he was appointed a professor of history at the University of Kiev. Along with T. G. Shevchenko and others, he helped organize the secret Society of Cyril and Methodius and write its bylaws and program. Kostomarov belonged to the right wing of the organization. In 1847 the society was disbanded, and he was arrested. After a year of imprisonment, he was exiled to Saratov, where he served on the Statistical Committee until 1857 and became acquainted with N. G. Chernyshevskii.

From 1859 to 1862, Kostomarov was a professor of Russian history at the University of St. Petersburg. His arrest, exile, and work on popular movements (Bogdan Khmel’nitskii and the Return of Southern Rus’ to Russia, 1857; The Revolt of Sten’ka Razin, 1858) had made him famous. He was a founder and contributor to a Ukrainian journal Osnova (Foundation), published in Russian and Ukrainian in 1861–62. A. I. Herzen, N. G. Chernyshevskii, and N. A. Dobroliubov supported his views on the right of the Ukrainian people to cultural development and on their struggle against the chauvinism of the Polish gentry and bourgeoisie, but they were critical of Kostomarov’s liberal moderation and religious mysticism.

In 1862, Kostomarov refused to support a protest against the exile of professor P. V. Pavlov, which enraged the more progressive students, and he had to leave the university. He broke with N. G. Chernyshevskii and drew closer to the liberal nationalist circles.

Kostomarov interpreted the major issues of Russian and Ukrainian history from the standpoint of bourgeois historiography. His theory of “two principles,” namely the popular assembly (yeche) and autocracy, idealized the Ukrainian past. His ideas about the exclusive attributes of the Ukraine—its classlessness and its lack of a bourgeoisie—caused him to turn to ethno-graphic material as the basic source, in his opinion, for the study of the history of a people. His interpretation of the history of a people was unscientific, however, since he neglected the economic aspects of the problem.

Kostomarov was also a romantic poet, publishing the collections Ukrainian Ballads (1839) and Branch (1840). In his dramas, Savva Chalyi (1838) and PereiaslavV Night, he portrayed the liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people from a nationalist standpoint. He also wrote several novellas in Russian, notably Forty Years (1840), Son (1865), Serf (1878), and Girl From Chernigov (1881). Kostomarov was also one of the first Ukrainian literary critics.


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Naukovo-publitsystychni y polemichni pysanyia. Kharkov, 1928.


Ocherki istorii istoricheskoi nauki v SSSR, vol. 2. Moscow, 1960. Pages 128–146, 567–578.
Polukhin, L. K. Formuvannia istorychnykh podhliadiv N. L Kostomarova. Kiev, 1959.
Istoryia ukrains’koi literaturi U 8 tt., vols. 2–3. Kiev, 1967–68.


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