posted by Moritz Deutschmann
A review of Die Nomaden und der Hunger: Sesshaftmachung und Herrschaftsdurchsetzung in Kasachstan, 1920-1945 (The Nomads and the Famine: Sedentarization and Assertion of Soviet Rule in Kazakhstan, 1920-1945), by Robert Kindler.
The famine of the early 1930s has become a highly politicized issue in a number of post-Soviet states: claims of genocidal violence directed against specific ethnic and national groups stand against interpretations that emphasize the large geographical scope and the generalized nature of the famine. Although Ukraine is usually in the center of this debate, it is widely acknowledged that Kazakhstan was the region with...
posted by Rachel Applebaum
A review of Notes from the Rotten West, Reports from the Backward East: Soviet and American Foreign Correspondents in the Cold War, 1945–1985, by Dina Fainberg.
Over the past two decades there has been a “cultural turn” in the study of the Cold War, with historians shifting their focus from high politics to the conflict’s impact on consumption, the arts, and the mass media. Dina Fainberg’s compelling and highly original dissertation on Cold War journalism provides an important contribution to this literature, while also broadening our understanding of postwar Soviet and American history. Her study is methodologically ambitious,...
posted by Giovanni Cadioli
A review of The Base of Contention: Kyrgyzstan, Russia and the U.S. in Central Asia (2001-2010), by Alisher Khamidov.
Alisher Khamidov’s The Base of Contention is a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the relations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan from 2001 to 2010. Specifically, it provides an explanation for the fluctuations in the relationship between these two countries and frames the research in larger regional and international contexts. These include relations in Central Asia between former Soviet Republics, China and the US as well as the interplay between Moscow and Washington. However, the research not only studies the nature of...
posted by Cassandra Hartblay
A review of Death and Freedom in Post-Soviet Russia: An Ethnography of a Mortality Crisis, by Michelle Parsons.
Michelle Parsons’ dissertation takes an ethnographic approach to unpacking a problem more frequently examined by demographers and epidemiologists: the spike in mortality rates for middle-aged Russians, especially men, during the first half of the 1990s. Instead of a statistical population-level methodology, Parsons uses life history interviews to draw out folk explanations for the social despondency, rampant alcoholism, and early deaths that characterized the immediate post-Soviet period. Parsons argues for a historically...
posted by Neringa Klumbytė
A review of A Death Transformed: The Political and Social Consequences of Romas Kalanta’s Self Immolation, Soviet Lithuania, 1972, by Amanda Jeanne Swain.
Why did nineteen-year-old Romas Kalanta commit suicide by burning himself in a public square on May 14, 1972 in Kaunas, Lithuania? This event touched many lives: some joined demonstrations and protests, others were interrogated by the KGB, some read and copied a poem heroicizing Kalanta and rewrote his death as a sacrifice for freedom against the Soviet authorities. Still others have pondered his death after Lithuania’s independence, when the government instituted Civil Resistance...
posted by Kristy Ironside
A review of Socialist Realist Science: Constructing Knowledge about Rural Life in the Soviet Union, 1943-1958, by Maya Haber.
Neglected for years before the Second World War, the Soviet countryside entered a full-fledged crisis by its end. Productivity plummeted, exacerbating food shortages, and many collective farmers refused to return to the kolkhoz. If in the past, the Soviet state had resorted to coercion and brute force to impose its will on the peasantry, it changed tack in the postwar period, calling on social scientists to produce usable knowledge that would help it better govern the rural population. Marshaling an impressive array...
posted by Julie deGraffenried
A review of Empire’s Children: Soviet Childhood in the Age of Revolution, by Loraine de la Fe.
Loraine de la Fe’s dissertation is an impressive examination of the ways in which Soviet officials used children and childhood to construct Soviet empire in the two decades following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The transformation of childhood was part of the Soviet project to engineer the New Soviet Man, the goal being a thoroughly modern creation, conversant in the norms of the new socialist society and contributing to the building of socialism. Comparing Moscow and the Autonomous Republic of Kalmykia, de la Fe uses children’s...
posted by Marina Potoplyak
A review of Russian-Argentine Literary Exchanges, by Dina Odnopozova.
Dina Odnopozova’s dissertation skillfully traces the history of the literary dialogue between Russia and Argentina in the twentieth century. Using the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), Roberto Arlt (1900-1942), Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), and Viktor Pelevin (1962- ), the author argues that the literary interactions between these two countries, located at the peripheries of the Western “cultural meridian,” used alternative channels of cultural distribution and consecration, and were often influenced by social and political conditions in their respective...
posted by Anjali Vithayathil
A review of The Institute of Experimental Medicine (Научно-исследовательный институт экспериментальной медицины) (St. Petersburg).
In November of last year, I had the opportunity to visit a small but well-equipped research institute in St. Petersburg, the Institute of Experimental Medicine. Formerly known as the Imperial Institute of Experimental Medicine, the medical center was built in 1890 by a distant relative of the Tsar, Prince Aleksandr Oldenburgskii, in response to a series of devastating cholera epidemics in the Russian Empire and rumors of an outbreak of plague in China. The...
posted by Mark Soderstrom
Dissertating, Doubting, and Doing It Anyway
As anyone who has tried knows well, dissertating is a doubt-laden enterprise. Such was certainly my experience. The dissertation I defended in 2011, “Enlightening the Land of Midnight: Peter Slovtsov, Ivan Kalashnikov, and the Saga of Russian Siberia,” explores the lives, service careers, and close friendship between Siberia’s first native-born historian (Slovtsov, 1767-1843) and novelist (Kalashnikov, 1797-1863), using the two men as tour guides of sorts to the Russian Empire during its “apogee” in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Although I am now knee-deep in...
posted by Bathsheba Demuth
A Review of Our Riviera, Coast of Health: Environment, Medicine, and Resort Life in Fin-de-Siècle Crimea, by George Lywood.
George Lywood’s dissertation examines how the Crimea was transformed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into the “Russian Riviera.” Lywood shows the ways in which Russians shaped the physical environment of this stretch of the Black Sea coastline into “a place of leisure, enlightenment, imperialism, health, sanitation, and highly gendered social interactions” (p. iv). While always attentive to local events and context, Our Riviera uses the Crimean beaches and their transient and settled...