Science in Context

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The Great War, the Russian Civil War, and the Invention of Big Science

Alexei Kojevnikov a1c1
a1 Department of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia



The revolutionary transformation in Russian science toward the Soviet model of research started even before the revolution of 1917. It was triggered by the crisis of World War I, in response to which Russian academics proposed radical changes in the goals and infrastructure of the country’s scientific effort. Their drafts envisioned the recognition of science as a profession separate from teaching, the creation of research institutes, and the turn toward practical, applied research linked to the military and industrial needs of the nation. The political revolution and especially the Bolshevik government that shared or appropriated many of the same views on science, helped these reforms materialize during the subsequent Civil War. By 1921, the foundation of a novel system of research and development became established, which in its most essential characteristics was similar to the U.S. later phenomenon known as “big science.”

c1 Institute for the History of Science and Technology of the Academy of Sciences, Moscow Email: