A review of the State Archive of Contemporary History of Saratov Oblast (Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv noveishei istorii Saratovskoi oblasti, GANISO), Saratov, Russia.
My research examines Soviet youth, popular culture, and organized cultural recreation in the Cold War Soviet Union, and I am currently completing a book manuscript entitled Socialist Fun: Youth, Consumption, and State-Sponsored Popular Culture in the Cold War Soviet Union, 1945-1970. More specifically, my study examines the Soviet government’s policy toward organizing cultural activities for young people, such as music groups, dances, theatrical productions, and so on, with mass amateur involvement by youth themselves. I tease out the complex dynamics involved in the state’s efforts both to attract young people into officially sanctioned cultural events and to convey normative cultural and political values via these channels, a challenging balance of ideology and entertainment, politics and fun. This sphere, what I term state-sponsored popular culture, grew especially challenging during the Cold War, when many Soviet youth expressed a preference for the popular culture of the United States, the superpower enemy of the USSR, inspiring further tensions over balancing grassroots desires with top-level demands for ideological vigilance. [Ed. Note: a review of the author’s dissertation can be found here.]
A crucial component of my work involves a comparison of policy implementation and everyday youth cultural practices in Moscow, the Soviet capital, and in Saratov, a mid-size regional city. Studying the latter enabled my research to reflect the grassroots reality of young urbanites in the Soviet heartland. The State Archive of Contemporary History of Saratov Oblast (website here), which holds the archives of the regional branch of the Komsomol, the Soviet mass youth organization, served as the key venue for my research on state-sponsored popular culture for young people in Saratov. Besides the Komsomol’s files, this archive holds the documents of all Communist Party and trade union cells, ranging from the province-level to the local ones, as well as other social organizations. Furthermore, this archive has a range of files relevant to the processes of political repression under Stalin and to World War II German prisoners-of-war. Besides this, researchers interested in post-Soviet life can find documents from social organizations in the 1990s and 2000s. These documents can therefore be useful for a wide range of research projects on Soviet and post-Soviet history. Altogether, the holdings include 1,369,455 individual files, united into 3,068 folders.
I visited the archive in the late Spring and early Summer of 2009. It is located at 410600, Saratov Oblast, Saratov, ul. Sakko i Vantsetti, 57. Take the trolleybus #15, the marshrutka #79, or bus #53, 6, 90, or 2 to the stop “Krytyi rynok,” or the trolleybus # 2 or 2A to the stop “Ulitsa Vol’skaia.” It is a short walk from any of these two stops. Before visiting the archive, call ahead to inform them you will be coming and to schedule an appointment with the archive director, the telephone is: (845-2) 27-16-77. If you have a contact among local historians working in Saratov, have them call ahead on your behalf as well, as it will make the archival staff better disposed toward you. The registration process conforms to other archives in Russia: bring your passport, the information on your proof of residency in Saratov, and an official letter from your university, in Russian, describing your research project and why you need to use the State Archive of Contemporary History of Saratov Oblast. To register, you will need to speak with the archive director, Anatolii A. Gerasimov, describing your research plan and what you hope to gain from the archive. Assure him that you will cite the archive profusely and provide the archive with any copies of articles or books resulting from your research there.
After that conversation, and filling out some paperwork, you will be admitted to the main reading room. This space has enough places for approximately ten people, and fills up fast. So, it would be best to arrive there early in the morning on the days when the archive holds working hours (currently Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM). Generally, the archive does not permit laptops in the reading room, but you may negotiate an exception with the director. You will receive the archival guide, which lists their document holdings, and can order up to ten files at a time, with a two-day wait for files from the time you order. However, a major benefit is that you can stack your orders in a queue, ordering several sets of ten files at once. When taking your lunch break, you can safely leave your materials in the reading room. While the archive lacks a cafeteria, there are many lunch places nearby, a short walk away. There were no computer-aided search or digitized files available when I visited, and given the state of resources at that archive, I do not anticipate that the status quo changed by this time. The archive offers photocopy and scanning services, quite costly ones, but it may be possible to negotiate an arrangement to let you take photographs. The staff is generally professional but distant. The atmosphere can get noisy when the reading room is full, so consider bringing earplugs.
Note that Saratov holds another archive as well, the State Archive of Saratov Oblast (Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Saratovskoi oblasts, GASO). This depository holds the documents of government institutions, not social organizations. I spent very little time there, as it had much less relevance for my research.
For taking a break from archival research, I suggest checking out Kirov boulevard. This pedestrianized street is Saratov’s traditional promenade, with old buildings and local charm, where Saratovites of all social categories stroll to take in the sights and sounds of the city. For a nature outing, go to Sokolovaia Gora, a mountain on the northern edge of the city that has a beautiful park, a memorial to World War II, and other attractions.
Assistant Professor of History
The Ohio State University
1179 University Drive, Newark, OH 43055
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