The "Electrical" Professor Jakub Narkevič-Iodko and the Nadnëman Estate: Process of Memory and Reconstruction, Between Science and Literature
Keywords:Nadnëman (Nad-Nieman), history of science, electrography, memory and identity, Belarus
AbstractThis article examines a case involving the history of Belarusian science, the development of a territory and its landscape, questions of identity and memory, and a large body of texts belonging to different genres: scientific; popular; tourism; biographical; historical; literary. The analysis revolves around the Nadnëman estate, in the Uzda district, and its most famous resident: Jakub Narkevič-Iodko (1847-1905) (written also as: Jacob Narkevich-Yodko, or Narkievitch-Jodko). The history of the estate near the Neman River has its roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and continues after the annexation of the territory by the Russian Empire, when the lands were brought by Onufrij Narkevič-Jodko. He designed an original palace inspired by a medieval fortress and full of Gothic elements. Onufrij's grandson, Jakub Narkevič-Iodko, trained as a doctor at the Sorbonne and maintained contacts with distinguished European scientists. At home, he offered innovative treatments, often free of charge, to the inhabitants of adjacent villages. On his estate he built the first Belarusian weather station the importance of which was recognized by the Petersburg Academy of Sciences. He became famous thanks to research on electromagnetism and the invention of electrography. Under Soviet power the estate was used for courses organized by the kolkhoz. Finally, the building was destroyed during the Second World War and remained in ruins until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, a Foundation is fighting to rebuild the estate so that it can house a museum. Still, with its ‘charm of ruins’, it has attracted a certain amount of tourism and is included in tours organized by local guides. The different types of texts involved represent different perspectives and yet they have meeting points. Research published by Belarusian scientists on topics such as physiotherapy, psychology, diagnostics, and telecommunications, appeal to the legacy of the ‘unjustly forgotten’ scientist. Printed and online materials of a popular nature underline the mysterious charm of the Narkevič-Iodko character and of his estate. In the texts dedicated to local history, the estate acts as a symbol of the historical events that have affected the territory and the country. The literary works of Belarusian authors inspired by the figure of Narkevič-Iodko are connected to a broad literary vein that dialogues with the history of science, while look to the ‘possible’ future. The ‘electrical man’, the genius who saw beyond his own time, moves between the texts occupying semantic fields that tell the need for testimony and the desire for recognition, in a tension between memory and thirst for the future.