In this talk, Olga Petri will explore an easily overlooked feature of many of late Imperial St. Petersburg indoor spaces: urban canaries as caged musical entertainers. From 1880 to 1900, canaries were brought to the city in great numbers, many of them from hatcheries in the Russian countryside. Their signature song was the ovsîanka, a mix of melodies ‘borrowed’ from wild Russian birds. Using this song as an element of the urban soundscape, Dr. Petri will demonstrate the complexity of the canary’s urbanisation. This process involved a geographically broad network of sites in which breeding, distribution, and domestic adaptation took place. Canaries, like human migrants flooding to the city during this time, retained their strong village roots and, in fact, their urban role depended on them. In the resulting super-urban assemblage, the urban canary’s peculiar destiny informs our understanding of the city, where ‘the urban’ never just means ‘man made’, nor ‘the rural’ necessarily ‘natural’, but hybrids emerge in a culturally intentional and historically meaningful way.
Olga Petri is the Leverhulme/Newton Trust Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. She is an urban historical geographer, concerned with understanding the relationship between the administrative state, social communities or milieus and the modernization of urban space. Her research has focused on late Imperial St. Petersburg, which offers an opportunity to explore largely untapped archival evidence carrying the street-level impress of an idiosyncratic, internally conflicted and ultimately over-written urban modernity. Her work draws from and contributes to inter-related discussions in historical and cultural urban geography, historical queer studies, and the history of late imperial Russia.