This introductory chapter introduces the arguments, methods, and subjects of Russian Peasants go to Court. My arguments concerning peasant legal practice are based on readings and analysis of over 4500 cases heard or registered between 1905 and 1917 at ten township courts in three provinces of the empire. Peasants living in the 253 settlements of these ten townships could bring cases to their township court, located in the township's administrative village. These township centers are indicated on the two maps reproduced here–one of Moscow Province and a second of the northern "Lake Region."
Moscow Province with Township Courts
Map of Lake Region
Data sets used in calculations and narrative
To reconstruct legal culture in rural, early twentieth-century Russia, I used two different methods–analysis of case narratives, based as directly as possible on official records kept by township clerks, and statistical studies of long runs of cases brought to ten township courts in three provinces. For statistical reports and analysis, I compiled four data sets, whose variables are listed on this site. Tables and charts in the book are based on the “Case Data” data set, unless another source is given. The areas and years I studied are described in chapter one of Russian Peasants Go to Court and the sets are described in the Note on Sources. Here I list all the variables in each data set. For the large case data set, I recorded 115 variables. A subset of these–48 variables–were used in statistical calculations.
Discrepancies in numbers of cases appearing in tables in the book or on the site derive from use of subsets of these data. For example, I excluded cases brought by policemen where no clear victim was visible from calculations about the sex of plaintiffs. Uncontested cases over inheritance were excluded from some analyses concerning characteristics of litigants. Over time, I added new cases to my surveys, and made recalculations based on these larger data sets, or on different subsets of cases (by area, by time, by type of case, etc.). I found overall that results based on around 550 or 900 cases were consistent with each other, and also that calculations of percentages–on subjects of cases, for example–yielded similar results when based on different data sets.
My most detailed data set, “Case Data,” was compiled from information on 907 individual court cases. A major concern of mine was not to select for types of cases, but to let the record speak for itself. I recorded data on series of cases described in court books, always proceeding sequentially for all cases entered in a township record for a particular period or for cases from a particular area within the township. Usually I read through cases over several months at a time. It was often not possible to cover all civil and all criminal cases heard or registered over a period at a court, because clerks kept different books for different kinds of cases. Another variation in the source of case data is the kind of record book. Clerks often used different books for civil, criminal, “stopped,” registered cases. Occasionally, cases where the litigants did not appear were recorded separately; sometimes these "no-show" cases were entered in the same ledger with cases in which parties appeared. A large set of variables–115–allowed me to keep track of these distinctions as well as to gather information on litigants, judges, causes, decisions, and outcomes of cases. For many of these 907 cases I recorded a full set of 115 variables, for others I had incomplete information. Statistical calculations of probabilities are based on 48 variables contained in this set of case data.
A second data set, “Subject Survey,” is based on the subjects of cases. I surveyed subjects and, in some cases, outcomes of 889 cases at three courts in 1908, 1914 (before the war) and 1916. For this material, I counted and summarized long runs of cases to provide me with second readings on types of cases and case outcomes at township courts.
This is a large compilation based on numbers of cases heard at a particular court at a particular time. This survey allowed me to look at the periodicities of cases at various courts. The survey covered 2746 cases, heard at five courts from 1905 through 1916, and is used in descriptions of court activity in the text. This survey permitted me to look at the incidence of cases ended because of non-appearance of a party or parties.
This is a compilation of characteristics for each of the settlements in the ten townships. Using published statistics and some archival information, I was able to identify population figures, geographical information such as distances to the township court or to the nearest city and railroad station, and other specifics–the presence of schools, factories, police headquarters, and drinking establishments–for most of the 253 settlements in the ten townships. In some cases I collected data on taxes paid by villages.