Archive for December, 2007

What is to be Done?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

[This is the final part of a four-part series of posts concerning "The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Russian History in America." For background information on this series, click here. Previous installments: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three]

What is to be Done?

For scholars who have themselves been forced to curtail (or forego altogether) archival work owing to a lack of institutional support, the relative decline in research money available to Russian historians may seem inconsequential. It may even occasion a not altogether unjustifiable case of schadenfreude. After all, having long benefited disproportionately from federal largess, scholars of Russia, it stands to reason, have little business whining about declining federal support as governmental attention shifts elsewhere.

Still, while it is certainly true that Russian historians have for many years enjoyed access to funds not available to their colleagues studying, say, Britain, France, or Germany, it is likewise true that Russian historians do not have now (nor are they likely anytime in the near future to have) access to the kind of research support typically sponsored by Western European governments. Given how little the Russian state has done to support the work of its own native scholars, it is hard to imagine that it would ever consent to subsidizing research conducted by foreign graduate students and academics. What would happen to American Ph.D. programs in European history if, over the course of the next five years, the governments in Paris and Berlin reduced by one-half the number of Chateaubriand and DAAD fellowships available to U.S. scholars and graduate students needing to work in French and German archives? This may well be the fate awaiting Russian historians.

Revenge of the Nationalities?

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

[This is the third of a four-part series of posts concerning "The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Russian History in America." For background information on this series, click here. Previous installments: Part One and Part Two]

Revenge of the Nationalities?

Despite the impressive work being done in the broad subfields of cultural, political, social, and military history, the most important trend to have emerged since 1991 has been the growing interest in the geographic and cultural “peripheries” of both Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Recently awakened to the place of non-Russian ethnic groups in the history of the country (thanks to their role in the collapse of the USSR) and increasingly influenced by the methodologies of geographers, anthropologists, ethnographers, and comparative sociologists, erstwhile Russian historians and newly emerging scholars have been at the forefront in developing scholarship relating to ethnicity and nationality within Russia proper and in those regions that Russians today refer to as their “near abroad:” Central Asia and the Caucasus.

From under the Rubble

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

[This is the second of a four-part series of posts concerning "The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Russian History in America." For background information on this series, click here. For Part One, here.]

From under the rubble

Although the years that immediately followed the demise of the Soviet system were accompanied by widespread and significant transformations in the field of Russian history, it cannot be said that these changes were themselves brought about by the historic events that transpired in and around 1991. A paradigmatic shift in Russian historiography was already underway by the time that the USSR had entered into its final stages of decay. Increasingly influenced by the “linguistic turn” that had earlier transformed the historiography of Western Europe, Russian historians were moving away from the issues and concerns that had defined the totalitarian–revisionist dispute towards cultural analysis based on methodologies devised by linguists and literary theorists.1

  1. John Toews, “Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience,” American Historical Review, 92 (1987): 879-907 []

A Brief History of Russian History, 1945-1991

Monday, December 10th, 2007

[This is the first of a four-part series of posts concerning "The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Russian History in America." For background information on this series, click here.]

A brief history of Russian history, 1945-1991

Although the scholarly study of Russia’s past may be said to have begun as early as the mid-eighteenth century with the publication of Mikhail Lomonosov’s Short Russian Chronicle (1760), Russian history, as an established academic field, is a relative newcomer to the United States.1 Originating in Slavic language programs created near the turn of the twentieth century first at Harvard (1896) then, later, Berkeley (1901) and Columbia (1915), Russian history did not truly come of age in the United States until well after the Second World War.2 After languishing for over half a decade as a woefully under funded and exotic subject principally of interest to the children of immigrants, Slavics rocketed to academic prominence thanks to the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA). Passed in response to the USSR’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, Title VI of the NDEA aimed to address America’s perceived national security needs by providing for the training of international experts, especially those possessing skills in less commonly taught languages viewed critical to the nation’s geopolitical interests. Under the initial terms of the congressional mandate, the federal government funded nineteen “language and area centers” to facilitate the expansion of language instruction and related subjects in higher education. Title VI simultaneously created three other programs: modern foreign language fellowships (today known as Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships); international research and studies; and language institutes. Along with the language and area centers, these programs “formed a comprehensive approach to foreign language and world region education intended to prepare the United States for current and future global challenges.”3 Even though Title VI was international in scope and intentionally designed to promote the study of regions around the globe, owing to the centrality of the USSR to then contemporary American domestic and foreign policy considerations, the study of Russian language, culture, and history benefited greatly from the initial and subsequent reauthorizations of the program. More than any other factor, Title VI was responsible for the rapid development of Russian history in the United States.

  1. George Vernandsky, Russian Historiography: A History. (Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1978), 3 []
  2. For a brief account of these earliest programs, see Horace G. Hunt, “On the History of Slavic Studies in the United States,” Slavic Review 46:2 (1987): 294-301 []
  3. A brief history of Title VI programs is available on the home page of the U.S. Department of Education. See, The number of language and area studies centers (or, National Resource Centers as they are now known) has grown to over 165 today []

“Scholarship at the Crossroads”

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

About this time last year, The Journal of the Historical Society published an essay of mine devoted to recent trends in the field of Russian history. Although the article (”Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Russian History in America”) was commissioned by the Journal’s editor, George Huppert, for the purpose of introducing non-Russian historians and general readers to developments in the field, I believe that many of the issues raised in the piece may be of interest to specialists as well.

Beginning late tomorrow and continuing over the course of the next ten days or so, I will post a series of installments containing the main text of the JHS essay. I welcome TRF readers to comment on the points made in the article or, at least, to think about the developments that the article addresses.

The TRF version of “Scholarship at the Crossroads” does differ from the original in several respects. For example, I have eliminated many of the footnotes appearing in the journal article by providing direct links to works mentioned in the text. In other cases I have updated (or added) information to reflect more recent events.

[Note: The definitive version of this essay is located at: To access it, click here.]