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Julie Thompson Klein, Wayne State University
(with Rachel May, Robert Naiman and Sergei Grigorievich Kaschenko)

Ust-Izhora: Mapping Interdisciplinary Place on the Neva

How can we create a map of cultural and natural values along the Neva river?


Link to interdisciplinary essay on Ust-Izhora (1st draft)

Focal Point:

Link to map of Neva River



The concept of "mapping" extends well beyond the discipline of geography. Cartography is an interdisciplinary field in which acts of visualizing, naming, and classifying represent both real and imagined realities in the geographies of mind and place. Likewise, "place" is an interdisciplinary concept, bridging geographical notions of space and other intellectual approaches to undertanding the meaning of a particular site. In mapping the site of Ust-Izhora, Russia we envisioned a hologram of disciplinary perspectives, layering three mappings based on specialized expertise about the cultural history and natural ecology of this place. Each layer enriched the other, producing a more complex interdisciplinary picture of the place while also suggesting new subquestions for future research and reflection.

Map 1: Historical Timeline

The historical framework of this location was shaped by its strategic location. At the political level, it has been the site of power struggles for territorial possession of the water of the Neva. River travel offered economic advantage for trade routes. Ust-Izhora also became a tool of >cultural propaganda. The statue of Nevsky celebrates his iconic status as a symbol of the superiority of Russia over the Swedes. In World War II, the ?gsacred?h meaning of the place was further strengthened because of tremendous losses of life in the nearby military battlefield to free Russia from the Nazi siege of Leningrad.

The Admiralty Izhora Factories were established on the Izhora during the time of Peter the Great and became very important in building Peter's new navy. Among the enterprises built at Kolpino on the Izhora River were a foundry, copper mill, gunshop, rolling mill, and sawmill.


Photos [select and add link]

Data map: [add Sergei's map of historical data]

additional maps:

1. historical-geological, showing the development of the Neva 2000(?) years ago

2. map(s) that shows shifting boundaries between ethnic groups (Finno-Ugric, Scandinavian, Slavic), between religions (Catholic/Orthodox/pagan), between allied tribes (when did Izhortsy ally with Rus'?), between political regions (changing outlines of Novgorod principality)

Disciplines engaged: history, political science, economics,

Subquestion:What role does this place play in representations of Russia?


1. What was the importance of these borderlands in defining "holy Russia" or "mother Russia"? Alexander's victories over the Swedes and Teutonic knights had political, economic, and religious significance for defining Rus' in opposition to the "cross-bearers" (krestonostsy) and asserting/affirming the domination of the Slavs over this land and this part of the trade route. The victory at Ust-Izhora was partly significant in this respect because Alexander received help from the non-Slavic Izhora tribe.

2. How did the place itself enter into rhetoric and representations of Rus' (and, later, Russia)?

a. The fact that Alexander received the name "Nevsky" fixed the importance of the Neva in his development and in Russian political life. He was named not for the center of his domain (Novgorod) nor for the oldest city and trade center (Ladoga), nor for his more important battle on Lake Chud (Chudskoe ozero). Instead, he received his name from a more minor battle, but it associated him permanently with the river -- a major force of nature, a vital trade route, a conduit among different peoples and a broad boundary line. As Bob Naiman said, rivers integrate watershed systems because they are the lowest point in the system where all its elements congregate; Alexander Nevsky also played an integrating function, bringing together a variety of peoples through diplomacy, military skill, faith, and force of character and forming them into a unified whole against external enemies.

b. As his image came to be used for religious and propagandistic purposes the Neva also became canonized as a central figure of holy Mother Russia. Sergei Prokofiev?fs choral music for the film "Aleksandr Nevskii" (1938) offered the Neva's "great water" as a synecdoche for the Russian land:

"It took place on the River Neva
On the River Neva, on the great water.
There we cut down the invading foe --
The invading foe, the Swedish forces"

"For the home of our fathers, for the Russian land
Arise, Russian people! On native Rus', on great Rus'
No enemy shall hold sway:
Arise, stand up, native Mother Rus?"


3. How does the Neva appear in icons or religious texts about Alexander Nevsky? When did historians decide that the battle took place at Ust-Izhora? Was there any discussion about the significance of this discovery to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra? Was the Lavra already seen as a holy site in its own right by that time? Did religious leaders welcome the change or resist it? Were there efforts to connect the Lavra physically to the river, or is it carefully separated from the water by embankments, etc.? Did Peter I invoke the battle on the Neva as a holy victory or as a strategic model? Was Alexander associated with a single place along the river or with the river as a whole? Do Russians hear the word "nevsky," as in Nevsky Prospekt, as a reference to the Neva river only, or to Alexander as well?

The political and economic factors that made this place so important in the larger history of Russia had both positive and negative effects on the people who there. The physical village is a composite of houses and garden plots, a bridge, a church, and the statue of Nevsky [what else?]. The lives of the people were shaped by larger political and economic history, the daily routines of survival, the beauty of the location, and the cultural fabric of their ethnicity.

Photos [select and add link]

Disciplines engaged: demography, ethnic studies, anthropology, religion, architecture, cultural studies

Subquestion: What is the daily experience of this place for people who live there? Good question to put to Tania or Elena

We could have an interesting map here showing how this place has had a characteristic peripheral quality through the ages: the Izhortsy were on the outskirts of the Finno-Ugric settlements, then this place was on the outskirts of Rus', then it became peripheral to St. Petersburg and Leningrad, an industrial area linked to the city but not really part of urban life. How did Ust-Izhora fit into the military map during the seige of Leningrad? Peripheral areas can be especially interesting because they are often disputed and they are sites of contact between diverse populations. Is that true today? Is this an area ripe for housing development, for example?


Map 3: Site on the Watershed

Ust-Izhora stands at the intersection of the Izhora and Neva rivers, adding new elements of connectivity, variability, and complexity. Rivers integrate everything in a catchment, because they are the lowest point in the landscape. Within natural systems, tributary junctions are sites of high productivity where migrating animals concentrate, fisheries often locate, and villages arose if no dangerous animals congregated there as well. The water chemistries of merging rivers differ and temperatures shifts occur at their junction, creating a chemical reaction that drives the food web and makes the system more efficient. Today, the Izhora river is a conduit for effluents from upstream, channeling them into the Neva. Judging by sediments, the Izhora is no longer a healthy river, It is low in oxygen and, in a ?greducing environment,?h cannot break down contaminants. When the Izhora enters the Neva, the sediments dissipate as more oxygen dilution occurs in the chemical constituency of the merged waters. (But the Neva is at its dirtiest just below Ust Izhora)

Photos [select and add link]

Data map: [add maps of the watershed using aerial or satellite photos of

the larger catchment and, if possible, images at different points in

time and space obtained from the two nearby monitoring stations

Link to data on water quality

Disciplines engaged: river ecology and archaeology, history

Subquestion:What is unique ecologically about the site where rivers meet?

-- Good fishing makes this an important site throughout history

-- Connectivity between river and banks is greater on Izhora than on the Neva, due to spring flooding, slower current; get richer bank communities, maybe good hunting. This was a good place for Alexander to make a surprise overland attack because the forest went right down to the waters of the Izhora and hid them, while a water attack on the wide, open Neva was easy to see coming.

--Connectivity is reflected architecturally -- the Nevsky monument emphasizes the link between river and shore. In contrast to Petersburg architectural and sculptural monuments, which are separated from the water by high embankments, lots of granite, this one is down on a little beach that attracts amateur fishermen. The Temple, too, is barely separated from the water and so close to the bridge that it is almost part of the same ensemble.