Статья '«Наш великий инквизитор – очень хороший человек»: к научной биографии Наума Абрамовича Бортника (1911–1977)' - журнал 'Genesis: исторические исследования' - NotaBene.ru
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Genesis: Historical research

"Our Grand Inquisitor is a very good Man": to the Scientific Biography of Naum Abramovich Bortnik (1911-1977)

Kapsalykova Karina Ramazanovna

ORCID: 0000-0003-4163-5099

PhD in History

Associated Professor, Foreign Studies Department, Ural Federal University

623280, Russia, Sverdlovsk Region, Yekaterinburg, Lenina av., 51.

Other publications by this author










Abstract: The article is devoted to the scientific biography of the Soviet medievalist, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor Nahum Abramovich Bortnik (1911-1977). The author pays special attention to the period of the Great Patriotic War. Letters addressed to N. A. Bortnik are introduced into scientific circulation. The letter of the writer Isaac Sadykov, who worked a lot in Sverdlovsk during the Great Patriotic War, sheds light on the literary life of the city. Special attention is paid to the discussions, sometimes acute, emotional, devoid of academic chic, which flared up between M. Ja. Sjuzjumov and N. A. Bortnik. The article publishes the minutes of the meeting of the Department of General History of the Ural State University. The author comes to the conclusion that it is necessary to reconstruct the scientific biographies of Soviet historians. This work is important for the preservation of the scientific heritage of our country. The publication of sources, in this case, is the only antidote against the tenets of "cathedral historiography" and empty references "separated by commas" in the notes for the next anniversary date. The article is a continuation of the study of the biographies of historians who were part of M. Ja. Sjuzjumov's "inner circle" and represents an independent scientific problem. The complete opposite of M. Ja. Sjuzjumov was undoubtedly N. A. Bortnik (1911-1977). They were separated by many things. Thus, M. Ja. Sjuzjumov belonged to the last generation of pre-revolutionary historians. Naum Abramovich Bortnik was a representative of the first generation of Soviet scientists. Professor Sjuzjumov has been developing the theory of dialectical continuity all his life; Professor Bortnik followed the "romantic school", highly appreciating the role of the masses of the people. M. Ja. Sjuzjumov saw echoes of political struggle in heretical movements; N. A. Bortnik insisted on the most important role of the leaders of the masses.


historiography, source studies, Sjusjumov, Bortnik, Ural State University, USSR, dialectical continuity, scientific biography, epistology, history of science

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

IntroductionThe history of Soviet historical science attracts close attention.

Fireworks of ideas, discussions, scientific everyday life, and even book exchange become the subject of discussion. The preservation of scientific heritage is an important task of today [1, p. 13].

On the other hand, there is a clear disparity. Researchers prefer world-renowned scientists or high-ranking Soviet historians, while other scientists fade into the background, their names fade and are lost. This state of affairs seems extremely unfair, because the opportunity to trace scientific connections is lost, the role of entire branches of historical science is leveled, and a paradoxical situation arises: a scientist becomes more famous abroad than in his native country.

Such a situation arose with the medievalist, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor Naum Abramovich Bortnik (1911-1977). His research has been referred to, perhaps, from the very beginning of his scientific work, and until now every serious author writing about medieval Italy cannot do without familiarizing himself with these works. At the same time, there is no systematic biography, nor even a solid statement of his scientific views.

"Just say: "Arnold of Brescia", and it seems: The bee-hunter will enter"These words from a playful song of student folklore reflect, nevertheless, the scientific interests of one of the most mysterious figures of Soviet medieval studies. N. A. Bortnik studied the essence of mass movements in the center of the Catholic world – Rome of the XI–XIV centuries, equally interested in the biography of one of the most important political figures of the Middle Ages, Albert of Brescia (1090-1155).

Student memoirs of R. G. The Pihoi have preserved the image of a fantastic scientist, a wonderful lecturer, a charismatic teacher. So, an inquisitive sophomore started a highly specialized dispute with Naum Abramovich, and after that he was invited to the department. There, slowly lighting a cigarette, N. A. Bortnik concluded: "You were right" [2, p. 15]. The chic of classical medievalists!

Naum Abramovich Bortnik was born on August 22, 1911 in the town of Mestkovke, Kryzhopolsky district of the Vinnytsia region in the family of a mill worker. Until 1927, he studied at a seven-year school, after graduating from which in September of the same year he began working as an apprentice at a baker, then worked as an apprentice at a blacksmith. In 1928, Naum Bortnik entered the Snezhnyansky school of mining apprenticeship and passed from the end of 1928 until graduation in 1931. He had an industrial internship in the electric telephone workshop of the AHO Snezhnyansky ore Management, where he then worked as a foreman. In 1930 he entered the Komsomol. Since the autumn of 1931, for a whole year, Naum Bortnik worked as an instructor of industrial training of the Snezhnyansky mining and industrial apprenticeship.

At the end of 1932 he entered the labor faculty at the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute named after V. I. Lenin, after which he entered the history faculty of the same institute in 1933. At the same time, he worked as a history teacher at Moscow School No. 53 (N. A. Bortnik's personal fund was not put into state custody. Here and further we restore the stages of his biography on a personal file stored in the UrFU Archive: F. R-2110. Op. 1. d. 72).

On July 2, 1937, Naum Abramovich graduated from the university course with honors.

After graduating from the Institute, he was left in graduate school at the Department of History of the Middle Ages. He prepared a dissertation "Arnold of Brescia – a fighter against the Catholic Church." On June 30, 1940, by the decision of the Council of the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute, N. A. Bortnik was awarded the degree of Candidate of Historical Sciences. Naum Abramovich began teaching part - time at the correspondence department of the mentioned institute and taught there until September 1940 . The permit of a young candidate of sciences from the People's Commissariat of the RSFSR provided that he would start working at the Sverdlovsk University immediately upon arrival in the Urals. Meanwhile, the completion of the reading of the course of the history of the Middle Ages at the correspondence department at the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute was to come in the January session. He went on a business trip to Moscow, but could not stay in the capital. On February 15, 1941, Naum Abramovich was approved as an associate professor (GA RF. F. R-9506. Op. 23. D. 7025).

In Sverdlovsk, a young candidate of historical sciences changed a number of positions. For a short time he served as the head of the Department of General History at Sverdlovsk State University. During the Great Patriotic War, N. A. Bortnik was acting Vice–rector for Academic Affairs, since November 23, 1942 - Vice-rector for educational and scientific part. During frequent business trips of the rector A. F. Elyutin, he remained acting rector. On September 20, 1943, at his own request, due to his health condition, he was dismissed from office. In 1943, he was again Acting head of the Department of General History.

Naum Abramovich provided significant assistance and support to a group of philologists working on the instructions of the Honored Artist Yu. A. Brill [3, Stb. 701-702]: philologist M. G. Kitaynik, obtained permission to travel to Leningrad assistant Lapotyshkina, who collected material on the history of theatrical culture of Irbit. "The Centenary of the Irbit Theater" by M. G. Kitaynik is a funded study. Based on a large source material, it was proved that famous actors, including Vera Komissarzhevskaya, were not indifferent to the fate of the first realistic theater in the Urals (Ivanov I. The history of the Irbit Theater. Scientific work of M. G. Kitaynik // Stalinist. 1946, July 11. No. 22 (444)) [4, pp. 150-151].

A very warm and sincere letter of gratitude is kept in the personal file of N. A. Bortnik. Another letter of gratitude from the personal file of N. A. Bortnik, very warm and sincere, is given below in full.


I. Sadykov's letter to USUTo the Rector 's Office of the Ural State University


named after A.M. Gorky

tt . Sedletsky Ivan Dmitrievich and Bortnik Naum Abramovich,

dear comrades!

Allow me, on behalf of myself and on behalf of the Uzbek people, to express my sincere gratitude to you for the brotherly help you have provided, to give me Elena Antonovna Shpakovskaya, an assistant at your university, to assist in writing the story "We are in the Urals" [5] [6, pp. 276-295], who has been working hard for two and a half months, regardless of difficulties with me, thanks to which today, October 8, 1945, I finished the final edition of this story.

I would like to express my satisfaction in a few words, and one might even say admiration, since the young assistant of your university you have singled out has a love for literature, a desire to master literary creativity and works hard doing the work assigned to her, for which, noting her merits in creating the story "We are in the Urals", I ask you to take this into account and to provide her with all possible assistance in her further development as a researcher in the field of literature.

At the same time, I sincerely thank her for her help.

With deep respect,

Isaac Sadykov.

the city of Sverdlovsk

October 8, 1945

(UrFU Archive, F. R-2110, Op. 1, D. 72, L. 33)

The manuscript, the original.

A talented teacher N. A. Bortnik was written by his former student who fought on the Volkhov Front, Nikolai Sekisov (Nikolai Alekseevich Sekisov, instructor of the political department of the 285th rifle division. The memory of the people. URL: https://pamyat-naroda.ru/heroes/podvig-nagrada_kartoteka1002220572/).


March 3, 1944

Hello, dear Nahum Abramovich!

I send my cordial greetings to the frontline and wish you success in your work.

I found out that you work at the same job and couldn't help but write you, at least a short postcard (I wrote to you at the beginning of 42, but I don't know if you received it, since there was no response).

Here, Naum Abramovich, there is war all around now – fire, thunder and death, and I remember the university and your lectures. What you said about the Germans, I have now seen with my own eyes. By the way, our Great Ancestor, who was the first to beat the "dog knights", is now especially often remembered by me - I am just in the places where he walked 700–odd years ago. They were beaten then, and we are beating them now. As you can see, history sometimes repeats itself, although the Germans did not take this into account. But it would be worth it! Naum Abramovich, write a couple of lines about the university and his life. In particular, about the history department: after all, the soul of a half-educated historian is sick… Hello to your colleagues. If you know, let us know, somehow, the address of N. I. Shatagin (Shatagin Nikolai Ivanovich (1906-1971) - colonel, in / h 547 ZabVO, headquarters of the Headquarters of the troops of the Far East URL: https://pamyat-naroda.ru/heroes/sm-person_guk1067586476 /. Doctor of Historical Sciences (1951)).

Greetings, N. Sekisov

(Archives priv?es de Serge Vechnjakoff,

F. CDPO-36, No. 2, L. 1 – 1 vers.)

Manuscript, original

N. A. Bortnik was awarded the medal "For Valiant Labor in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945)".

N. A. Bortnik began studying the social activities of Arnold Breshiansky in 1939. N. A. Sidorova referred to the research of the associate professor in her doctoral dissertation "Essays on early urban culture in France" [7, pp. 430, 436]. N. A. Bortnik continued to study the life and social activities of Arnold Breshiansky, contributing to the work of Soviet historians. In September 1955, in Rome at the X International Congress of Historians, Academician E. A. Kosminsky in his report "The main problems of Western European feudalism in Soviet historical science" [8, p. 74] dwelt in detail on the biographies of the largest public figures of the Middle Ages.

1947 became the year of trials for N. A. Bortnik. Repeatedly , the university 's party meetings were overshadowed by phrases like: "A number of people who do not inspire political confidence (Sapozhnikova, Godashevich, Bortnik, Finkelstein and others) work at the Ural University in socio-economic departments" (CDOOSO. F. 4. Op. 41. d. 208. L. 18). His stay at the university was overshadowed by long-term feuds with the candidate of pedagogical sciences, associate professor N. M. Katerinochkin for the position of chairman of the commission assembled to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Moscow. The difficult situation forced Associate Professor Bortnik to seek refuge in the Smolensk Pedagogical Institute. However, the order for the Ministry of Higher Education of the USSR was canceled and N. A. Bortnik remained an associate professor at USU.

N. A. Bortnik collaborated with the Philosophical Encyclopedia. He participated in the discussion of volume 4 of the "World History" [9, p. 179]. Impressed by the results of the scientific session "Results and tasks of studying the genesis of feudalism in Western Europe" (May 30 – June 3, 1966), the non-party historian wrote an emotional letter to the magazine "Communist" [10, pp. 306-317; 11, pp. 85-95].

On June 14, 1967, N. A. Bortnik successfully defended his doctoral dissertation "Popular Movements in Rome (1143-1343)" (Bortnik N. A. Popular movements in Rome, 1143-1343: in 2 volumes: dissertation... Doctor of Historical Sciences : 07.00.00. - Sverdlovsk, 1967. 605 p.).

A small discussion with a great scientistOn the eve of the centenary of V. I. Lenin, the usual formal question at the meeting of the Department of General History of USU turned into a serious clash.

M. Ya. Syuzyumov used in a number of works the well-known Leninist position: "The democratic Republic and universal suffrage in comparison with the serf system were a huge progress: they have made it possible for the proletariat to achieve the unification, the cohesion that it has, to form those orderly, disciplined ranks that wage a systematic struggle against capital. There was nothing like this even approximately for a serf peasant, not to mention slaves. Slaves, as we know, rebelled, staged riots, opened civil wars, but they could never create a conscious majority leading the struggle of parties, could not clearly understand what goal they were going to, and even in the most revolutionary moments of history they always turned out to be pawns in the hands of the ruling classes [12, p. 449]. N. A. Bortnik, a supporter of Germanic constructions, used in his works more of the work of historians of the romantic school (Ferdinand Gregorovius) [13, pp. 23-328].

Here is the minutes of the meeting of the Department of General History No. 8 dated February 25, 1969, which demonstrates the intensity of passions.

Chairman: Suzumov M. Ya .

Attended: Belova N. N.,

2. Report on preparations for the 100th anniversary of Lenin's birth.

M. Y. Syuzyumov talks about the use of V. I. Lenin's works in the course of historiography of the Middle Ages.

Bortnik N. A. I will write a report, but, of course, not in the spirit of fighting with Piston, Pokrovsky and Neusykhin. As a member of the department, I cannot approve some of your theses. In the days of the anniversary, there is no need to focus on the fight with our colleagues. I cannot agree with the thesis that the people are a pawn in history. I propose to raise this question at the department, and I do not understand why the others are silent.

Suzumov M. Ya . I refer to the words of Lenin and cite the pages of the collected works. I can't agree with Porshnev in any way, but his school speaks in you.

Bortnik N. A. I don't agree with your thesis. I believe that the position of "the people are a pawn in history" is not Leninist.

Polyakovskaya M. A. I believe that we have been brought up in a somewhat dogmatic approach to issues, and I respect this ability to approach problems in a new way, I respect a new opinion. And I respect M. Ya. Suzumova is precisely for this ability to see the problem in a new way. It is necessary to approach Marxism creatively.

Bortnik N. A. You have read your work, we are discussing it. I do not agree that this can be a guide to action. I think that a formal discussion, who has prepared, who has not, does not give anything.

Suzumov M. Ya . You didn't understand the substance of the question. It was only about the report. I run the course myself and am responsible for it. And if the question arises about the discussion, let's put this question "V. I. Lenin on the masses of the people" at the department. And now the question is only about the report.

Surov E. G. I think that a significant part of the works of V. I. Lenin, indicated by M. Ya. Suzumov, can be used and antique. And such a question can be raised at the department.

Suzumov M. Ya . We are invited to hold an open meeting of the department. I ask you (N. A. Bortnik) to make a report at this meeting, why do you think that my views on the masses are not Marxist. I was told that you are spreading such rumors everywhere. Here are the pages of quotations from the works of V. I. Lenin, on which I rely. I ask you to tell me whether you agree to speak or not.

Bortnik N. A. First of all, I ask why this issue is not on the agenda, why are we discussing it in different ways? Secondly, why are we talking about rumors? I spoke about this in an official conversation with the secretary of the party organization, who, during the preparation of the meeting, addressed me as the chairman of the methodological commission. If we are talking about a dispute with you on the question of whether the people are a pawn or a demiurge, then I do not see the expediency in this, because our points of view are defined. If you raise the question of V. I. Lenin's views on the masses, then I agree with you on such a dispute, but I ask you to give me the theses of your speech today so that I can start preparing tonight. When will the department be?

Suzumov M. Ya. In a week, in two – when you are ready. I will not give any theses. Here are those quotes, other than that, I didn't say anything. You accused me of anti-Marxism. I want you to repeat these accusations at the department. Tell me, do you agree or not?

Bortnik N. A. I agree to repeat what I said to the secretary of the party organization, but on condition that you give me your theses right now. If you don't, then I refuse to perform.

Suzumov M. Ya. I will not give you any theses. I've given you four quotes and I won't give you anything else. You said all sorts of nasty things about me without theses and repeat it. Just say yes or no.

Bortnik: I protest against the accusation of me M. Ya. Suzumov's "in filth"!

Suzumov M. Ya . I demand – just say yes or no!!!

After that, N. A. Bortnik left the department.

Belova N. N. Apparently, we are talking about different interpretations of the same provisions.

Suzumov M. Ya . No, we are not talking about different interpretations, but about the impossible style of work at the department.

We decided to ask the dean to take the initiative to appoint an expanded meeting of the department.

Head of the department M. Ya. Suzumov

Secretary N. F. Shilyuk

(GASO, Op. 3, F. R-2110, D. 512, L. 48-49).

The original. Typescript.


Since the 1950s, the problems of the Department of General History have been the history of the ancient and medieval city. The theory of dialectical continuity defined the city as the most important achievement of ancient civilization. This city did not cease to exist in the slave-owning era, on the contrary, it was the centers of civilization and culture that accumulated the most important achievements of mankind. The city was considered in M. Ya . ' s doctoral dissertation . Suzumova as a focus of persons of non-productive professions. Unlike the monastery, the city had legal authority over the district. The scientific topic of the Department of General History was "The dynamics of the ancient city and the genesis of the feudal" (GASO, Op. 3, F. R-2110, D. 512, l. 48-49). M. Ya. Suzumov believed that the Byzantine city can be traced from the ancient to the XIV century. However, there is some separatization in relation to the cities of central Italy, since the analysis of cities of the XIII–XIV centuries is given in isolation from the processes of its genesis. This was a violation of Lenin's principle of historicism. This caesura has not been replenished. The defense of the dissertation, the creation of a series of significant publications undermined the health of the scientist. In 1977, N. A. Bortnik died of a myocardial infarction.

N. A. Bortnik's research is still relevant today. Historians of different countries refer to his works, and his monograph on Arnold of Brescia is a classic, one of the best biographies of the uncompromising medieval freedom fighter in the world [14, S. 588-590; 15, p. 213-231; 16, p. 330-349].

Despite the complexity of scientific relationships, M. Ya. Syuzyumov repeatedly wrote about N. A. Bortnik to his numerous correspondents, always giving him a forest assessment [17, pp. 290-297]. In a letter to A. P. Kazhdan , he reported: "I told our Grand Inquisitor about your book, he was very interested, but we don't have the book on sale yet. Our Grand Inquisitor is a very good man – his heart rejoices at how well he is fighting against modern Paulicians, modern Bogomils, modern hesychasts-Palamites. His only major drawback is that he does not know how to distinguish hypercriticism of the conjunctural type from scientific criticism – despite the fact that there is a direct warning from Engels about this" (GASO, F. R–802, Op. 1, D. 153, L. 9).

ConclusionThus, the biographies of historians who were part of the "inner circle" of M. Ya.

Suzumova is an independent scientific problem.

The complete opposite of M. Y. Syuzyumov was undoubtedly N. A. Bortnik (1911-1977). They were separated by many things. Thus, M. Y. Syuzyumov belonged to the last generation of pre-revolutionary historians. Naum Abramovich Bortnik was a representative of the first generation of Soviet scientists. Professor Suzumov has been developing the theory of dialectical continuity all his life; Professor Bortnik followed the "romantic school", highly appreciating the role of the masses. The first of them was interested in the problems of the history of the ancient and Byzantine city, and the second – the history of the medieval. M. Y. Syuzyumov saw echoes of political struggle in heretical movements; N. A. Bortnik insisted on the most important role of the leaders of the masses.

The publication of sources, in this case, is the only antidote against the tenets of "cathedral historiography" and empty references "separated by commas" in the notes for the next anniversary date.

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The events of recent years related to the sovereignization of Russia could not but lead to increased attention to national history. Another thing is that publicists who are far from the professional historical community often seek to present the past of our country to a mass audience. But the popularization of science is an extremely responsible matter: even professional scientists cannot always present the facts in a way accessible to a wide audience. It should be noted that historical paintings are often created by writers: These are the "History of the Russian State" by N.M. Karamzin, and "War and Peace" by L.N. Tolstoy, etc. Unfortunately, the names of a few major historians are usually heard, which cannot but impoverish our ideas about historical science. These circumstances determine the relevance of the article submitted for review, the subject of which is the biography of the medievalist Nahum Abramovich Bortnik. The author sets his tasks to consider the main milestones of the scientist's life path, as well as to determine his scientific relationship with the Ural historian M.Y. Syuzyumov. The work is based on the principles of analysis and synthesis, reliability, objectivity, the methodological basis of the research is a systematic approach, which is based on the consideration of the object as an integral complex of interrelated elements. The scientific novelty of the article lies in the very formulation of the topic: the author seeks to characterize the differences between different generations of historians using the example of the relationship between M.Y. Syuzyumov and N.A. Bortnik. Scientific novelty is also determined by the involvement of archival materials. Considering the bibliographic list of the article, its scale and versatility should be noted as a positive point: in total, the list of references includes over 15 different sources and studies. The source base of the article is represented by both published materials (memoirs, reports) and documents from the collections of the Documentation Center of Public Organizations of the Sverdlovsk region and the State Archive of the Sverdlovsk region. Of the studies used, we will point to the works of K.R. Kapsalykova and A.S. Mokhov, whose focus is on the scientific activities of N.A. Bortnik. As a disadvantage, we point out that the archival materials used by the author are not presented in the bibliography. Note that the bibliography is important both from a scientific and educational point of view: after reading the text of the article, readers can turn to other materials on its topic. In general, in our opinion, the integrated use of various sources and research contributed to the solution of the tasks facing the author. The style of writing the article can be attributed to scientific, at the same time understandable not only to specialists, but also to a wide readership, to everyone who is interested in both historical science in general and historical science in the USSR in particular. The appeal to the opponents is presented at the level of the collected information received by the author during the work on the topic of the article. The structure of the work is characterized by a certain logic and consistency, it can be distinguished by an introduction, the main part, and conclusion. At the beginning, the author determines the relevance of the topic, shows that often "researchers prefer world-famous scientists or high-ranking Soviet historians, while other scientists fade into the background, their names fade and are lost." The author draws attention to the fact that if "M. Y. Suzumov belonged to the last generation of pre-revolutionary historians," then Nahum Abramovich Bortnik was "a representative of the first generation of Soviet scientists." Describing the scientific interests of the scientists, the author notes that "the first of them was interested in the problems of the history of the ancient and Byzantine city, and the second in the history of the medieval one." The debates of historians around the interpretation of Marxism cited in the peer-reviewed article are also curious in the spirit of their time. The main conclusion of the article is that "the biographies of historians who were part of M. Y. Syuzyumov's "inner circle" represent an independent scientific problem." The article submitted for review is devoted to an urgent topic, will arouse a certain reader's interest, and its materials can be used both in educational courses and as part of the popularization of historical science. In general, in our opinion, the article can be recommended for publication in the journal Genesis: Historical Research.
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