Environmental Change in the Soviet Union

A review of Making Nature Modern: Economic Transformation and the Environment in the Soviet North, by Andy Bruno. Did the Soviet Union perpetrate ecocide to an unprecedented degree? Was communism more egregious than capitalism in its degradation of nature? Are human activities decisive, or does the natural world shape and defy human behavior? These questions have loomed large in debates about the relationship between people and the environment in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In his ambitious study, Andy Bruno offers answers that are both empirically substantiated and theoretically engaged. Bruno makes the case that the Soviet...

Addiction & Drug Use in Soviet Tajikistan

A review of The Administration of Addiction: The Politics of Medicine and Opiate Use in Soviet Tajikistan, 1924-1958, by Alisher Latypov. Alisher Latypov’s dissertation breaks significant new ground in assessing an important and sensitive topic in modern Central Asian history. Despite what the title suggests, the research does not only address Tajikistan but also brings other Soviet Central Asian republics into the picture. During the Soviet state’s period of existence, the Party and the government exhibited a strong will to fight the consumption of opiates. The Bolshevik authorities presented their use as the persistence of...

Russo-Iranian Encounter: Empire & Statehood

A review of Empire and Statehood in the Russo-Iranian Encounter, 1880s-1911, by Moritz Deutschmann. This smart, well-researched dissertation, part of a remarkable surge in interest in the encounter between pre-Revolutionary Russia and the Islamic lands to its south, breaks away from a tradition of viewing the history of non-European countries primarily in relation to the West. It looks at Russia’s late ninteenth-century foreign policy vis-à-vis Qajar Iran and its effect, indirect control, not simply as a story of inexorable “intrusion,” and one-sided domination, but as a complex, interactive process. This process, the author contends,...

Soviet Rule & Famine in Kazakhstan

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...

Ethnicity & Deportation in Soviet Kazakhstan

A review of Nations in Exile: “The Punished Peoples” in Soviet Kazakhstan, 1941-1961, by Michael H. Westren. In 1941, as the Soviets waged war with Nazi Germany, the Soviet leadership began to deport more than half a dozen different ethnic groups to Siberia and Central Asia. By 1945, nearly two million people had been deported. Through internal deportation, these ethnic groups, including Russian Germans, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Ingush, Meskhetian Turks, Kalmyks and Karachays, lost their land, their homes, and their livelihoods. Previously, many of these groups had their own autonomous republics; these, too, now began to disappear from...

Cold War Journalism, Soviet & US

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,...

Kyrgyzstan, Russia & US in Central Asia

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...

Empire, State & Social Change in Siberia, 188...

A review of Cultural Curators and Provincial Publics: Local Museums and Social Change in Siberia, 1887-1941, by Julia Fein. Julia Fein’s dissertation, “Cultural Curators and Provincial Publics: Local Museums and Social Change in Siberia, 1887-1941,” examines the history of local museums in Siberia as a way of understanding the changing relations between state and society, imperial center and periphery, and people and things in late imperial and early Soviet Russia. She argues that Siberian museums played a crucial role in two parallel modernization projects undertaken in Russia at the time: “cataloging and claiming” the empire’s...

Soviet Union as “Empire of Friends” Feb24

Soviet Union as “Empire of Friends”

A review of Friendship of the Peoples: Soviet-Czechoslovak Cultural and Social Contacts from the Battle for Prague to the Prague Spring, 1945-1969, by Rachel Leah Applebaum. Rachel Applebaum’s dissertation is a history of a momentous and now nearly forgotten cultural experiment: the communist Cold War-era attempt to construct a common socialist culture for the countries of the Soviet Bloc. Her case study is Soviet-Czechoslovak cultural relations between the Soviet liberation of Prague in 1945 and the aftermath of the Soviet occupation of the same city in 1968. For very good reasons, both the historiography and the popular memory of the...

Soviet Orientalism & Politics in Central Asia

A review of Settling the Past: Soviet Oriental Projects in Leningrad and Alma-Ata, by Alfrid Bustanov. Researchers in the Caucasian and Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union are faced with a paradox: the various centers of “oriental” studies are dedicated to the study domestic history, alongside that of foreign countries considered to be sufficiently “Eastern.”  In Russian the term for Orientalism (vostokovedenie) literally refers to the act of examining the “East,” but in practice the concept is entirely metaphorical in the Central Asian context, since local orientalists look not only east,...

WWI & Russia’s Religious Intelligentsia Feb17

WWI & Russia’s Religious Intelligentsia

A review of Providential Empire: Russia’s Religious Intelligentsia and the First World War, by Christopher A. Stroop. In this impressive and well-written dissertation Christopher Stroop explores the meaning and the context of controversial commentaries on the First World War by Russian religious philosophers, such as Nikolai Berdiaev, Vladimir Ern, Sergei Bulgakov, Prince Evgenii Trubetskoi, and the Symbolist poet Vyacheslav Ivanov, in public religious and philosophical debates in late imperial Russia. Stroop’s study is a welcome addition to recent post-Soviet Russian and western scholarship on the role of religion in imperial Russian...

Russian Social Media Networks

A review of The Map and The Territory: Russian Social Media Networks and Society by Karina Alexanyan. Karina Alexanyan’s 2013 dissertation, The Map and The Territory: Russian Social Media Networks and Society, makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Russia’s contemporary social media networks. The text draws on a broad admixture of communications theory, media studies, sociology, and cultural studies tools to map out the unique features of Russia’s social media networks. As such, it will be of interest to a broad range of communications, area studies and cultural studies scholars, professionals and...

Mortality Crisis in Post-Soviet Russia

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...

Self-Immolation in Soviet Lithuania Jan27

Self-Immolation in Soviet Lithuania

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...

Banditry, Terrorism & Revolution in Late Impe...

A review of Bandits, Terrorists, and Revolutionaries: The Breakdown of Civil Authority in the Imperial Fergana Valley, 1905-1914, by Yulia Uryadova. In the ongoing historiographical revisions following the breakup of the USSR, Russia’s tsarist empire also continues to be revisited, and with it histories of resistance and of the Russian revolutions themselves. Yulia Uryadova’s Bandits, Terrorists, and Revolutionaries forms part of this trend, contributing to our revised understanding of what revolution was and how revolutionary activity functioned in the empire. Her dissertation has several main thrusts. First, it creates a typology of...

Finnish-Russian Relations 1880s-1920s Jan13

Finnish-Russian Relations 1880s-1920s

A review of Shared Space, Varied Lives: Finnish-Russian Interactions in Dacha Country, 1880s-1920s, by Kitty Lam. It may surprise many visitors to Helsinki today that on the central square of the city there stands a statue not of a great Finnish president or general but instead of a Russian emperor, Alexander II. Other facets of the square likewise reveal Russian influence: the Lutheran cathedral behind the statue was modified to resemble the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Isaac in St. Petersburg, with an altarpiece donated by Nicholas I. Thus an urban space that we would normally expect to be a bastion of everything Finnish in fact tells a much...

Socialist Realist Science in the Soviet Union

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...

Soviet Childhood in the Age of Revolution Dec02

Soviet Childhood in the Age of Revolution

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...

Russian-Argentine Literary Exchanges

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...

Poet-Translators in the Soviet & Post-Soviet Eras Nov11

Poet-Translators in the Soviet & Post-Soviet ...

A review of A Remedy For Solitude: Russian Poet-Translators in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras, by Maria Yevgenievna Khotimsky. Maria Khotimsky’s dissertation makes an invaluable contribution to our growing understanding of the vital role of translation in the development of the Russian poetic tradition. In framing her analysis, Khotimsky engages with important contemporary works in the theory of translation as well as with the theories advanced by Russian translators and scholars of the Soviet period; she also builds on the relatively limited amount of historical scholarship dealing with translation in Russia and the Soviet Union,...

Buddhism in Modern Russian Culture Nov04

Buddhism in Modern Russian Culture

A review of The Buddhist World in Modern Russian Culture (1873-1919): Literature and Visual Arts, by Adele Di Ruocco. Academic writing at its best should be innovative, informative, and interesting to read. In her dissertation, The Buddhist World in Modern Russian Culture (1873-1919): Literature and Visual Arts, Adele Di Ruocco has achieved all three of these aims. This work traces the lineages of Buddhism as a values system and worldview in Russian intellectual life in the late imperial period. It draws on academic approaches to literature, visual culture, and religious studies, and has broad intellectual appeal across these and other...

Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East

Navigating Northeast Asia in Vladivostok: A Review of the Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East (Российский Государственный Исторический Архив Дальнего Востока), Vladivostok, Russia The Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East (RGIA DV) is a treasure trove for historians of Northeast Asia and the Russian Far East. But preparation, perseverance, and patience are needed. The archive is located in Vladivostok, which was founded in 1859 as the eastern outpost of the tsarist state and became a military and administrative center for the region. The vast majority of the...

Pastoral Activism & Public Sphere in Late Imperial Russia Oct28

Pastoral Activism & Public Sphere in Late Imp...

A review of The White Priest at Work: Orthodox Pastoral Activism and the Public Sphere in Late Imperial Russia, by Daniel Scarborough. Drunken, uneducated puppets of a corrupt tsarist regime — such a description summarizes some of the traits associated with Russian Orthodox clergymen in late Imperial Russia. Even scholars who recognize the crudeness of this caricature may still view these men as passive traditionalists who were out of touch with the changing cultural, political, and economic realities of Russian society. While the works of many, particularly Gregory Freeze and Jennifer Hedda, have battled these images, the parish clergy...

Institute of Experimental Medicine, St Petersburg

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...

Oil, Ore & State-building in Xinjiang 1893-19...

A review of Staking Claims to China’s Borderland: Oil, Ores, and State-building in Xinjiang Province, 1893-1964, by Judd Creighton Kinzley. Staking Claims to China’s Borderland is a vividly written dissertation which maps Xinjiang’s transformation from a remote hinterland in Central Asia to an integral administrative, political, and economic unit of China. Refusing to accept that Xinjiang’s integration into the Central Kingdom was historically inevitable—a pervasive trope in the Chinese literature on Xinjiang—Kinzley anchors his study around the relationship between natural resource extraction and the delicate process of...

Dissertating, Doubting & Doing It Anyway

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...

Reading Mitchell’s Carbon Democracy in the U...

Carbon Socialism? A view from the “Second World” of Timothy Mitchell’s Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (Verso, 2011)  Timothy Mitchell’s Carbon Democracy is one of the most influential of recent works that realigns how we understand international relations, ideologies, material and political infrastructures, and energy resources as interconnected in history and in the present. Mitchell is a political theorist and historian at Columbia University who specializes in, among other things, the politics of the Middle East and the construction of modern energy networks. His latest book is a response to the prolific...

The Crimea as “Russian Riviera”

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...

Gulag & Soviet Society in Western Siberia Oct03

Gulag & Soviet Society in Western Siberia

A review of The Gulag and Soviet Society in Western Siberia, 1929-1953, by Wilson Bell. What was life like for prisoners and camp staff in the many “ordinary” camps, colonies, and special settlements of the Soviet Gulag? This is one of the key questions that Wilson Bell attempts to answer in The Gulag and Soviet Society in Western Siberia, 1929-1953. Bucking the trend of studying camps in the most extreme and remote locations (e.g., work by David Nordlander on Kolyma, Simon Ertz on Noril’sk, and Alan Barenberg on Vorkuta), he examines Western Siberia, an enormous area that roughly corresponds to the Novosibirsk, Tomsk, and Kemerovo...

The Disaster of Collective Farms under Khrushchev Sep27

The Disaster of Collective Farms under Khrushchev

A review of Reform in the Time of Stalin: Nikita Khrushchev and the Fate of the Russian Peasantry, by Auri Berg. Over the last decade historians of the Soviet Union have turned their gaze to the postwar years. This rich literature, however, delineates soviet life from the perspective of Moscow, Leningrad and a handful of provincial cities. With the exception of a few dissertations and a random chapter here and there, little has been published in English on soviet postwar rural society. From this corpus, an uninformed reader would never suspect that the majority of the soviet population lived in the countryside until 1959. Auri Berg’s...