Skip to main content

Global Overview Magazine

Revista de actualidad política, religiosa, económica, social, cultural, científica y educativa con alcance internacional
ISSN 2618-1916

From «friendship» with archives to a new love for the Motherland

 

From «friendship» with archives to a new love for the Motherland


The interview was prepared by Irina Chepaykina.


Is it difficult to keep the memory of "bygone days" in the XXI century? Perhaps one needs to be a certified specialist who reads historical documents as easily as social media feeds? But maybe history is open first of all to indifferent people and opportunities appear only if one is looking for them? Denis Andreevich von Meck, creator of a virtual museum of the history of the von Meck family (http://von-meck.info ) is telling us how to "become friends" with electronic and paper archives, make your own non-accidental discoveries and fall in love with your native country in a new way.


- How was the idea of your collection born and why did it get the name "virtual museum"? What does this concept mean for you personally?

- The idea of creating a kind of "museum" came to me a few years ago when I realized that contribution of my ancestors to the history of Russia is worthy of being known and remembered by our contemporaries. "Classical" libraries, archives and museums helped me a lot at the beginning and a little later I discovered another valuable source - auction catalogs. Private collections turned out to include unique things without exaggeration and besides, after a collector passes away his or her heirs often send these treasures to an auction. Actually, my "museum" has become virtual partially because all authentic things associated with famous surnames cost a lot, and sometimes even a huge amount of money. At the same time, a collection like this one does not require rental of premises and additional organizational expenses and most importantly, it is available to everyone who is not indifferent to the history of our country.

As for the very concept of "virtual museum", so for me it means a thematic website or a blog with digital copies of exhibits from public and private collections, articles by various authors, historical documents and memories of contemporaries. As you know, promotion of projects of that kind often requires considerable investments, but I am lucky to have a rare surname: after all, everyone who is interested in the von Meck family will almost certainly find my website http://von-meck.info which is entirely dedicated to history, unlike the website of the International Charitable Foundation named after Nadezhda von Meck (www.von-meck.org). Meanwhile, I try to buy original items whenever possible. There are already several hundreds of them in my collection and I hope that this is not the limit.



- Is it easy to deal with modern archives of historical documents, newspapers, letters and photographs? What would you recommend to novice researchers?

- I think it has always been difficult, especially without special training. Of course, it is easier to get access to large archives in Moscow, but a well-known surname can even hinder searching. Sometimes you find an interesting document, a letter or a photograph and see that it has already been given to several visitors. In any case, it is important to understand that electronic and paper archives are far from being the same. Digital documents are usually structured and indexed, but papers can be investigated for years even by experts. For those who have just started to study their genealogy or any historical topic I would recommend joining dedicated communities in social networks. As practice shows, one can find there a lot of responsive and friendly users ready to give advice or even share some interesting findings. Descendants of people who used to work in houses or at railway enterprises which once belonged to the von Meck family get in touch with me quite often. Such family histories can be great material for future articles, books and films.


- Which Russian and foreign resources were the most valuable for your project? Are all of them available to the general public?

- It is better to start with so-called aggregators, for example, the portal of the National Electronic Library (http://нэб.рф) to which I dedicated a separate webinar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBHcRZlYxZM). Any registered user can "visit" about 200 Russian libraries and view the requested document in a convenient OCR (Optical Character Recognition) format or as a scanned image. I would recommend not to neglect electronic auction catalogs as well, because one can find there truly unique objects and pieces of art as well as trace their fate, learn about former and current owners.


- Is it easy to get into the state archives of historical documents?

- It’s not difficult to get there, but is it worth it? An untrained person will have to take the path of a blind kitten, especially without support of experts or at least experienced acquaintances. On the other hand, sailors have a fair observation: if a mechanic cannot determine the cause of a problem, one needs to call the ship's cook so that he could look at the problem with “fresh” eyes. I found a lot of interesting documents where a qualified archivist would not have thought to look for something.


-Which findings from the archives are most important for you? Can they be called occasional?

- Maybe yes, but are there any accidents in the world? One day, while browsing a French website I saw an old portrait of a diplomat in a spectacular ceremonial uniform and recognized one of sons of Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck - Maximilian Karlovich who had served abroad for many years. Later I managed to find out that the picture belonged to his great-granddaughter, see photos of the historical furnishings of the house and even find the grave of Maximilian Karlovich's niece in Great Britain. It turned out as well that the portrait used to strictly "watch" my aunt who came to London during the Second World War and spent her childhood with the widow of "Uncle Max". Another unexpected discovery is connected with the Russian State Military Archive where I found information on the Red Cross awards of representatives of the von Meck family as well as a detailed description of their path at the front among the cards of lost documents. And, of course, the things that “remember” my ancestors' hands are especially dear to me: gifts from friends and relatives, personalized awards and the simplest household items...Some people will call these findings a trifle, but they create a special aura of house museums which is felt literally at the doorstep. Remember the Tchaikovsky State House Museum in Klin where it is so easy to feel like a guest of the most famous Russian composer. I am sure that the atmosphere of the unique place will be remembered forever not only by professional musicians, but also by every sensitive visitor regardless of age and musical education.


- What is the role of the virtual museum in the educational activities of your International Charitable Foundation in Russia and abroad?

- The website structure makes it very convenient to use for preparing articles, presentations and webinars. The individual pages are interconnected, so that one can find information about several historical personalities or interesting "exhibits" following one link. For example, visitors can find several branches of my ancestors von Meck, Tchaikovsky, Davydov and representatives of other famous Russian surnames in the "Personalities" section. I also try to mention people who came into contact with them by the will of fate or by chance as often as possible. For example, on the page www.von-meck.info/132 one can find a list of more than 10 thousand burials in the cemetery of the Alekseevsky Monastery where once was a family chapel of the von Meck family with unique icons by Mikhail Nesterov. It is sad to realize that we will never see this necropolis, but it is comforting to be able to preserve the names of the departed ones and the memory of their deeds.


- In one of stories by Yuri Nagibin I came across an optimistic quote from Andre Maurois: "The dead are no longer dead if the living devoutly resurrect them”. How likely is it that digital museums and archives will help to strengthen the connection between generations in the "post-COVID-19"era and continue the lives of people who have become part of the history of our country?

- The more seriously we study the past of our homeland, the more we understand its weight and significance in the deepest, patriotic sense. It is enough to learn about the level of patronage and charity that existed in tsarist Russia to admire your native country and fall in love with it again. In addition, family archives are of great interest to schoolchildren and students who need to prepare a report or an essay about something truthful, but little-studied. And finally, modern technologies can help us to find our ancestors not even by first and last names, but by faces. After uploading the only available portrait of your great-great-grandfather to a special system you can happily find him in a shared photo among friends, colleagues or fellow soldiers and then understand in which archives and government departments you should continue your search. I think that such a wonderful opportunity to exchange something really valuable with others and create a common space of historical memory should not be underestimated.


- Denis Andreevich, thank you for the confidential conversation and useful recommendations. Your project proves that history is not just dates and facts from school textbooks, but also living people, their thoughts, destinies and faces. I hope that every year there will be more and more people who want to learn their roots and therefore themselves better.