The value of focusing on health in the past and using this knowledge as a tool to help understand what is happening in the present is increasingly being recognised by public health researchers. In relation to this, although much historical public health research has taken place in Western countries, as yet, comparatively little has occurred in Russia – especially tsarist Russia. The current study will address this deficit by focusing on health outcomes (mortality) and service provision in St. Petersburg in 1880-1914. The capital city was at the forefront of the social, economic and political change that was occurring in Russia during this period. A massive and rapid influx of workers into the city in the pre-War years created a series of intricate public health challenges – the solution of which was complicated still further by a backdrop of political turmoil.
Using extant statistical sources to create a citywide district mortality database that stretches across time, this study will: a) examine the spatial distribution of specific causes of death across the city and how it changes across this period; b) attempt to determine if there were socio-economic differences associated with the spatial distribution of mortality in the city, and if there were, whether they changed over time; c) focus on the role of alcohol abuse in connection with deteriorating public health and the attempts to combat this phenomenon; d) examine the changing provision of health services across the period.
Taken together the results from this study will provide a comprehensive overview of public health outcomes and services in tsarist St. Petersburg which in itself will be an important contribution to the history of public health literature. Perhaps more importantly however, this historical focus may provide important lessons as regards the public health crisis that is currently occurring in Russia, where rapid social, economic and political change is also impacting extremely negatively on the population’s health.