A Carpenter Tells All


Carpenter. Samarkand photographed by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

In this photograph, taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in 1905, we see a man working as a carpenter in a town known as Samarkand. Samarkand is located in present day Uzbekistan, and was once part of the Russian Empire. Samarkand was likely founded due to its location along the Silk Road. Due to its location, it made a perfect home for Russian operations. Behind the man pictured is a building speculated to be a Russian compound. Although the Russian’s may have a building dedicated to them, the people of Samarkand are not what one thinks of when imagining a typical Russian population.

Titled, “Carpenter,” this photo shows a man dressed in what appears to be a long robe and a headdress not typical of the Russian population. The people of Samarkand were in fact mostly Tajiks who spoke Persian, while Uzbeks were in the minority. This man pictured, likely Tajik or Uzbek, is not Russian by heritage, but instead is a part of a territory under Russian control. The area of Samarkand during the 20th century was full of individuals that were “working” for Russia, though they were not even Russian. This man, possibly a serf, or at least a worker, is likely working for the Russian compound shown behind him in the photograph.

With the major religion of Imperial Russia being Russian (Eastern) Orthodox, it is interesting to note that the religion of Samarkand was dominantly Islam since the 8th century. The Christian and Jewish populations of the area are considered very small. Samarkand is actually known for its many mosques and mausoleums built during the 14th and 15th centuries. Imperial Russia was drastically different from Samarkand when it came to their religions of the time. This may be a common theme among Russia and its territories.

The carpenter pictured here is one of many individuals that were a part of an empire that differed greatly from their own culture and ways of life. The different aspects of the man in the image, from the way he was dressed to the ethnicity that he was a part of, illustrate just how different Samarkand was from Imperial Russia. The people of the town were asked to participate just like a normal Russian citizen would in duties and battles during World War II, though they were from a completely different world. This image does a great job of showing the dramatic differences in these two cultures all the way from how they dressed, to the languages they spoke, and even the religions they practiced. It also depicts how, even when included in a larger empire such as Russia, the local historical culture of Samarkand continued to thrive and present itself in peoples’ everyday lives.


This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

simple red star by worker



Gregory L. Freeze, ed. Russia. A History, 3rd Edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.)

“Samarkand- Crossroad of Cultures.” United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization: World Heritage Center. 2001. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/603.

“World Digital Library: Carpenter. Samarkand.” Library of Congress. Last updated September 30, 2016. https://www.wdl.org/en/item/616/#q=Prokudin-Gorskii&page=3.


4 thoughts on “A Carpenter Tells All

  1. I enjoyed your analysis of the carpenter’s ethnicity and his likely religion. Do you think that the differences in culture and religion throughout various parts of the Russian Empire caused rifts within the Empire itself? Were these differences underlying causes of some of the conflicts throughout the 20th Century?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Dalton — Your discussion of the man in the photograph raises really interesting and important questions about ethnicity, empire, and religion in the early twentieth century. It’s intriguing to think about the linguistic differences between non-Russian ethnic groups in the empire — in this case, Uzbek (Turkish) and Dari (Persian). And I think Dalton raises an important question about the potential for religious and ethnic differences to cause conflict in times of stress (like World War I). (You did mean WWI in this post, right?) I really enjoyed reading this!


  3. I also chose a photograph from Samarkand so I found your post to be very helpful and enlightening. I agree with Dr. Nelson that the linguistic differences are intriguing, and I really appreciate that you included them in your post. Russia is such a large and diverse place, and on top of that they had an empire. I really like how you commented on how this could present special challenges when members of that empire are expected to contribute during wartime. That is something I would like to learn more about!


  4. I am glad so many people are choosing to pick photos from outside territorial Russia! You did really well explaining the history of culture and religion in Samarkand. We will discuss World War I soon and see how non-Russian nationalities respond to increased tensions and unsatisfactory conditions. Great job!


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