Gift to university marks 100 years of special relationship with Russia
IT was 1916 and Nicholas II was still on the throne of Russia as he battled against the Germans in the First World War.
But some of his parliamentarians from the newly-elected Duma slipped out of war-torn Petrograd and headed to the unlikely destination of Glasgow, where they discussed creating a new trade deal with the city’s many merchants.
During the trip, the delegation visited Glasgow University and so began a long and enduring relationship.
As a result of that connection 100 years ago, the university boasts a collection of historic Russian documents, books and artefacts that are almost unrivalled anywhere in the world.
The institution’s Department of Russian Studies is renowned and was established in 1917 by city merchant William Weir, who had forged the initial trade links with Russia.
He bequeathed £2,500 to create the school, which celebrates its centenary this weekend.
Its first lecturer was Hugh George Brennan, who had lived in what is now St Petersburg and was well acquainted with Tsar Nicholas.
He would never see the Tsar or his family again as, in 1917, he travelled to Glasgow to begin teaching Russian studies and found uprisings that had been crackling as he left soon erupted into a full-blown revolution.
The royals were imprisoned before being shot.
Partly as a result of the turbulence, Glasgow was well placed to gather and collect troves of artefacts that had been spirited out of Russia amid repeated Communist purges.
Among the Russian treasures housed at Glasgow University’s library is the world’s largest series of first-edition works by
Leon Trotsky, as well as primary source testimonies from those who escaped the gulag camps.
A swathe of prohibited news articles and books clandestinely published during the Communist era also earn pride of place.
Such is its historical significance, scholars and academics travel thousands of miles to visit what is one of the most profound collections of Russian heritage in the world. Russian lecturer Dr Andrea Gullotta, described the Glasgow collection as “amazing” and praised the efforts of its first lecturer Mr Brennan, who brought to the Scotland artefacts that are among the “most interesting and valuable”.
He said: “It really is one of the most renowned collections in the world. It is so large we cannot show all of it.”
The university was yesterday also presented with a special collectors’ edition of the 16th-century Illustrated Chronicles Of The Russian Tsar, by Ivan The Terrible – also known as the “Tsar Book” – of which Russia has made just 100 copies to add to the incredible archive.
It is the largest compilation of historical information ever assembled in medieval Russia and covers the period from pre-history to the year 1567.
The set of manuscripts was commissioned by Ivan The Terrible specifically for his royal library.
It was presented by the Russian consul general, Andrey Pritsepov, to Glasgow University’s principal, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli.
Mr Pritsepov paid tribute to the “remarkable people whose devotion and professionalism” created the inimitable Department of Russian studies.
He said: “I am confident the Chronicles Of Ivan The Terrible, being a literary monument in their own right, would not only find place of pride in the university’s famous Slavonic collection, but also contribute to an enhanced understanding of the multifaceted cultural legacy of Russia and promote knowledge-sharing between our peoples.”
Mr Muscatelli said: “We are deeply honoured to be presented with the
Tsar Book. The 100th anniversary celebrations feature a packed and varied programme of events from a virtual exhibition of Russia’s first gulag at the university’s Hunterian Museum to a rock concert organised by Glasgow’s Russian community.”