Industrialization in a Rural Society


The photo, Work at the Bakalskii Mine Pit, taken in 1910 by photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii depicts a Russian family engaged in small-scale mining operations in the Bakaly hills outside of Yekaterinburg in the Urals. The photographer Prokudin-Gorskii was groundbreaking in his use of color photography and embarked on an expedition in 1909 to document life in Imperial Russia with the approval of Tsar Nicholas II. His works, like this one show how people lived, and worked during the time period, as well as architecture, cities, and in addition to demonstrating the diverse and unique peoples who lived in the large empire. His work offers a snapshot of the Russian Empire and provide a window into the period of transition during the time. ¹

The rough-hewn carts and traditional dress show, quite plainly, an empire and society in transition from pre-industrial rural life to the belated arrival of industrialization in Imperial Russia.  This small scale operation, to mine iron ore in the Urals, shows the viewer just how novel industrialization was in Russia, particularly in the more remote parts of the empire. The family is still engaging in the traditional means of labor, working as a family, before the creation of an industrial labor force. The Bakal mines and the iron-rich region of the Urals would provide much of the iron and steel that would modernize the Russian state. In fact the Bakal mine would become one of the largest mines in Russia in the ensuing years.

This photograph is particularly interesting to me, and one of the reasons I chose it was because of its similarity to photos I’ve seen of early coal mines in the mountains of Appalachia. Noticeably different are the traditional garments of this Russian peasant family, which demonstrate that though the type of labor may have changed much of the traditional life and culture, as well as the rural family dynamic and means of labor remained much the same.


[1] “Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii: Biographical Information ,” Library of Congress, Accessed 1/22/2017,

[2] Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei M. Work at the Bakalskii Mine. 1910. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection, Library of Congress, Web, Accessed 1/22/2017,


  1. I’m surprised more people don’t respond to the similarity between this photograph and images of Appalachia! This would have been a great image to use in class today when we were talking about dress as well. And thanks also for featuring a map in your post.


  2. This picture is very interesting, good pick! The dress of the men and women and the tools that they are using are pretty interesting to examine. You mentioned that it was an example of the transition into industrialization. They seem to be a modest people, putting in a lot of work, as did a lot of people at that time. This is a pretty cool topic, good post!


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