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Book review: A war of images. By Stephen M. Norris. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. 2006. 291 pp. $40.00. cloth. ISBN: 0 87580 363 6

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Bassin, Mark

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Abstract 282 Book reviewA war of images. By Stephen M. Norris. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. 2006. 291 pp. $40.00. cloth. ISBN: 0—87580—363—6 SAGE Publications, Inc.2008DOI: 10.1177/14744740080150020803 MarkBassin University of Birmingham This interesting monograph explores what the author calls `Russian visual nationhood.' Specifically, it is a study of how lubok illustrations (cheap and colorful bastwood prints long popular among Russia's lower classes) depicted – and propagandized for – Russian military campaigns, from the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 down to the Second World War. Challenging arguments of Geoffrey Hosking and others that a sense of nationhood in Russia was traditionally only weakly developed, or indeed absent altogether, Norris insists that the articulation of identity was a constant and pervasive process. His point is well taken and cer- tainly well demonstrated, although given the intensely patriotic nature of the evidence he con- siders one could hardly have expected differently. He traces how the iconography of 283 Fatherland representation shifted over the 19th century, with the image of the tsar-batioshka or tsar-father becoming less important while the image of the sturdy and diligent peasant remained ever stable. The discussion of how lubok illustrations survived the revolution of 1917 to prosper as an effective means of political propaganda and popular mobilization in the USSR is particularly fascinating. As part of this, we gain a glimpse into the little-known aspects of the oeuvre of cultural giants such as Vladimir Mayakovsky and Kazimir Malevich, namely their careers as humble lubok illustrators. Overall, the book provides fascinating insight into how national identity was represented and perceived on the lowest levels of society, among a population that was for the most part illiterate. At the same time, however, the imagery it discusses is striking for the absence of a concern with landscape as a defining parameter for national identification. As Chris Ely's recent This meager nature demonstrates, landscape was a vital element in the elaboration of Russianness for the `high' culture of Russian art and poetry. Perhaps a follow-up study, examining lubki pictures that are not related to war themes, would reveal a similar engagement with the geography of nationhood.
Publication Year 2008
Page/Pages p. 282-283
Journal Cultural Geographies, 15 (2008) 2
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)