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Geographies of Russia: Lecture 2 by Olga Petri “Places of Tenderness and Heat: The Queer Milieu of Fin-de-Siècle St. Petersburg”

Friday 28 April, 2023, 18:30 - 20:30

We continue our series of lectures on Geographies of Russia that showcases various aspects of geography, covering environmental issues, socio-economic and cultural geography, the geography of the Arctic and the culture of the indigenous peoples of Siberia.

Olga Petri

Olga Petri

This time we will welcome Olga Petri, a Leverhulme/Newton Trust Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. You can follow her on Twitter @olga_petri.

The lecture will present historical and geographical landscape of queer St.Petersburg, Russia, at the turn of nineteen and twentieth centuries. It is based on the book “Places of Tenderness and Heat: The Queer Milieu of Fin-de-Siècle St. Petersburg”  which Olga published with Cornell University Press in 2022.

Olga Petri takes us on a ground-level exploration of queer St. Petersburg at the fin-de-siècle, through busy shopping arcades, bathhouses, and public urinals to show how queer men routinely met and socialized. On the basis of extensive archival research, she portrays the milieu that enabled them to navigate a city full of risk and opportunity.

Focusing on a non-Western, unexplored, and fragile form of urban modernity, Petri reconstructs a broad picture of queer sociability. In addition to drawing on explicitly recorded incidents that led to prosecution or medical treatment, she investigates the many encounters that escaped bureaucratic surveillance and suppression. Her work reveals how queer men’s lives were conditioned by developing urban infrastructure, weather, light and lighting, and the informal constraints on enforcing law and moral order in the city’s public spaces.

The 1879 Ordinance
This document reveals a geographically-selective and sexually exclusive vision of “moral hygiene” for the city. It shows that the negotiation over queer sexual spaces took on many forms, not just ones concerned directly with the enforcement of sodomy laws. By examining this ordinance, we can better understand the social and legal landscape of St. Petersburg during this time, as well as the intricate ways in which the queer community navigated these restrictions.

Zimmel’ file, 1900
The case of Zimmel’, a man arrested on Nevsky prospect, offers insight into the unique challenges faced by individuals within the queer community. His unusually harsh punishment and the anonymous denunciation in his file provide valuable information on the phenomena of queer cruising and male prostitution in St. Petersburg. By examining Zimmel’s story, we can better understand the diverse experiences of those who lived during this time and the complex interplay between law enforcement and the queer community.

The Secret Directive from 1910. This document is a secret mayoral directive, preserved alongside precinct-level responses to it. It illustrates the variations in police responses based on observable behavior and location, as well as the constraints on arbitrary police authority. By studying this directive, we can gain valuable insights into the robustness of accepted constraints on police power and the resilience of queer socialization and sex practices in the face of direct orders from high-ranking officials.

The talk will be followed by Q&As and a drinks reception. It will be possible to buy Olga Petri’s book and talk to her afterwards over a glass of wine.

This is a hybrid event. If you cannot come in person, it will be possible to join the talk and Q&A session via Zoom.

WHEN: Friday, 28 April, 18.30-20.30

WHERE: Scott Polar Research Institute, Lecture Theatre, Lensfield Road Cambridge, CB2 1ER and ONLINE. The lecture will be delivered in English.


  • In-person – £4 (plus £1 booking fee) for CamRuSS members, £7 (plus £1 booking fee) for non-members (drinks will be provided).
  • Online via Zoom – free for CamRuSS members and £4 (plus £1 booking fee) for non-members. Please follow THIS LINK to book your tickets. 

LANGUAGE: The lecture will be in English.


Friday 28 April, 2023
18:30 - 20:30
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Scott Polar Research Institute, Lecture Theatre
Lensfield Road
Cambridge, CB2 1ER
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