This is an image of a man standing on a small wooden dock along the Mariinskii Canal system. Construction of the canal system began in the early 1700’s and has undergone several modifications and expansions since then.1 The canal system, later renamed the Volga-Baltic Waterway, connected the northern part of European Russia and the Volga River with the Baltic Sea. Spanning over 1,100 km, the Volga-Baltic Waterway is a prime example of economic modernization that mobilized toward the end of the Russian Empire, playing a crucial role in both transportation and trade. 1 The vast majority of the Russian Empire was agrarian, and Russia was one the largest exporters of agricultural goods in the world. The Volga-Baltic Waterway enabled Russia to better connect this strength with the rest of the world through trade. Furthermore, the Volga-Baltic Waterway linked the rural interior of Russia with the industrial area of St. Petersburg. 1 In addition to external trade, the Volga-Baltic Waterway facilitated the transfer of various manufactured goods and agricultural goods between the industrial and agrarian regions of the empire. Such intra-connectedness is paramount for an empire the size of Russia, let alone a state in general.
Aside from being a display of economic modernity and increased trade/ travel, the man displayed makes this image particularly intriguing. From the turn of the 20th century to the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917, the average male life expectancy did not exceed 40.2 Regardless, the man in the image is believed to be over eighty years of age. The man, Pinkhus Karlinskii, was the supervisor of the Chernigov floodgate along the Volga-Baltic Waterway. The age of the man in the picture almost serves as an unintentional foreshadow of the effect of the Volga-Baltic Waterway. It is not unreasonable to assert that improved modes of transportation, such as the Volga-Baltic Waterway, would bring about a greater quality of life and life expectancy for surrounding citizens impacted by the structure. As stated, such systems enabled greater transportation of goods, such as food, medicine, and other various materials. Connecting rural farmers and their families with industrial regions could also increase their access to higher quality healthcare, granted they had sufficient money. In fact, the average life expectancy in Russia greatly increased following the turn of the 20th century all the way up to post WWII. 2 While the empire fell, structures of economic modernization such as the Volga-Baltic Waterway remained and increased both the productivity and quality of Russian life.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Pinkhus Karlinskii. . . Supervisor of Chernigov Floodgate, 1909. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03966 (16)