Disseminating Knowledge of Venereal Disease: Body Politics in Eighteenth-Century Russia


Johann Bernhard Müller, a foreigner in Russian service in the 1710s, produced a memoir of his time in the Russian Empire focused upon the populations of Siberia. For Müller, the association of Siberians and venereal disease was at the core of the empire’s weakness.  For example, Muller suggested the Ostiaks’ difficulties were the result of their lack of hygiene, poor diet, and general immorality, as seen their “irregular Desires” that led to “nothing but Licentiousness and Confusion.”  In the Russian Empire, immoral habits threatened the physical well-being of imperial subjects.  The future of the empire depended upon improving not only health but also customs and lifestyles.  By the end of the century, Russia had made considerable progress on the treatment of venereal diseases.

Heinrich Friedrich von Storch’s Gemählde von St. Petersburg included a lengthy section on the city’s facilities including its hospitals.  He noted with interest its special “venereal hospital, which has thirty beds for men and just the same number for women; and all that apply are gratuitously admitted, but not discharged till they are completely cured.” It was not a surprise that Russia attempted innovative solutions for one of its longest-lasting challenges. This talk will uncover the unique role the treatment of venereal disease played in eighteenth-century governing strategies.