AMID the turbulent days of war and revolution in Russia in the summer of 1917, a group of American railway engineers arrived in Petrograd. Their mission was to maintain the Trans-Siberian railway, a vital causeway for American aid to the war effort against the kaiser's Germany.
Frank Golder, a young history professor, was drafted to work as an interpreter for the engineers. But he spent his spare time collecting political posters in the street. Observing the revolution, then in its interregnum between the liberal anti-monarchist revolt of February and the Bolshevik takeover of October, Professor Golder wrote:
"Although I have no sympathy with the gang of anarchists and disturbers who are now at work in Russia, yet I occasionally catch a glimpse of their ideals and they are not all bad."
Golder later become the first collector of Russian documents for the famous archives of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace created in 1919 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., by Herbert Hoover, who later became president of the United States.
These recollections from the Hoover archives, along with an equally compelling set of historic documents from previously closed Russian archives, are part of a joint Russian-American exhibit. The Hoover Institution and Roskomarkhiv, the Russian state-archive authority, have organized this display entitled "Making Things Work: Russian-American Economic Relations from 1900-1930." It opened here in the Russian parliament building and will move to the Hoover Institution in March.
The joint show is the result of a broader agreement between the two scholarly institutions, reflecting the consequences of Russia's decision to begin opening its once secret archives following the collapse of Soviet rule. The two organizations are engaged in a major project to microfilm the archives of the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union and make them available for scholarly use.
This exhibit provides a remarkable record of American-Russian ties during a time of vast change in both countries. It begins with the first forays of American bankers, investors, and traders in Czarist Russia, moving to the growing American role during World War I. The Russian revolution ushers in a new phase, when American entrepreneurs gained concessions from the young Bolshevik regime and adventurers and revolutionaries came to help the Soviet state build its agricultural and industrial base.
There are also photos, letters, diaries, and other evidence of the unique American relief effort to avert a massive famine during the turmoil that followed the Bolshevik revolution. The American Relief Administration was led by Mr. Hoover, who had spent time in Russia as a mining engineer.
As Americans and Russians struggle today with a new relationship, one mediated again more by trade, aid, and investment than by ideological and military confrontation, this past bears new relevance.
Pyotr Aven, until recently the young reformist minister of foreign economic relations in the Russian government, found one kind of lesson in this history. Mr. Aven reflected the somewhat dampened expectations of those Russian reformers who look to the West, and to the United States in particular, as key to the survival of the reform process.
"Unfortunately, the new government of democratic Russia faces a more careful relationship toward Russia than at the beginning of the 1930s," he said at the exhibit's opening Nov. 17. "Just as in the 1930s, our economic cooperation is not only fruitful but can crucially influence the history of mankind."
As American businessmen nervously contemplate the risks of investing in Russia today, they can appreciate the boldness of men such as Armand Hammer and W. Averill Harriman who, after the Russian revolution, secured mining concessions here. Among the items in the exhibit are the credentials issued on May 30, 1921, by the Council of People's Commissars to a young Mr. Hammer, as representative of the American Allied Company, giving it the right to open an asbestos mine in the Ural Mountains.
Nor is technology transfer a new idea. An August 23, 1929, contract records the deal for Ford Motor Company to set up an automobile plant in the city of Nizhni Novgorod. That city is today the center of an experimental program to privatize Russia's state-run economy, a project aided extensively by Westerners.
The new brand of "technical assistance" - from Peace Corps advisers on small business to stock-market specialists - can find predecessors among the engineers, agronomists, and others who came to teach Russians modern ways. The exhibit includes a glossary carried around by engineers, telling them how to say "sluicegate" or "abutment" in Russian.
Perhaps the most poignant example of da vu is the highly successful relief effort mounted by Hoover's American Relief Administration during the famine of 1921. The Americans initially agreed to feed 1 million Russian children a day but ended up feeding an estimated 10 million a day, an effort that dwarfs the humanitarian aid program of recent times.
An official Soviet resolution passed on July 10, 1923, and preserved in this exhibit, expresses thanks that echo today: "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will never forget the aid extended to them by the American people through the ARA, considering it a token of future friendship between the two nations."