The Case of the Dead Cheese Master, Part III: The Emperor and the Palace

Grand Duke Paul in 1774

Grand Duke Paul in 1774

The Swiss cheese master was an employee of the palace of Gatchina at the time of his death. He’d been hired just a couple of years before, at a time when Gatchina—both the palace and the village—were undergoing some significant changes that had to do with its owner, the newly crowned Emperor Paul, the supposed “crowned psychopath,” the most autocratic of Russian autocrats whose intemperance got him murdered and replaced by his angelic son.

Paul was actually a far more complicated figure, as even those who were very critical of him admitted. According to one such account, “he was really benevolent, generous, of a forgiving temper, ready to confess his errors, a lover of truth, and a hater of falsehood and deception, ever anxious to promote justice, and repress every abuse of authority, especially venality and corruption.” Such a paragon of virtue ought to have reigned long and well. But the same author goes on: “unfortunately, all these good and praiseworthy qualities were rendered useless to himself and to the empire by a total want of moderation, an extreme irritability of of temper, and an irrational and impatient expectation of implicit obedience.”  (“Reminiscences of the Court and Times of the Emperor, Paul I of Russia, up to the Period of his Death. From the Papers of a Deceased Russian General Officer. Part I,” Frazer’s Magazine (August 1865): 236-237) Continue reading

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The Case of the Dead Cheese Master, Part II: A Taste for Cheese

Why was a Swiss cheese-master (or perhaps a Swiss-cheese master) working for the administration of Gatchina in 1799? There are (at least) two ways of answering this question. The first has to do with the development of a taste for cheese—and by this I mean a taste for aged cheese, not for soft fresh cheese—among Russia’s elite during the eighteenth century, and a corresponding concern with the Empire’s finances.

While Russia had a long tradition of milk products and soft cheeses, cured cheeses came into fashion during the eighteenth century as imported luxury goods. Peter the Great supposedly preferred cheese to sweets as a dessert (and loved Limburger above all others); by the start of the nineteenth century travelers and others described imported cheeses as common parts of the culinary world of Russia’s nobility.  So wrote Theodore Faber as he described St. Petersburg: “The cheese of Parma is an indispensable need in all kitchens; one never serves the Macaroni of Italy without adding in its perfume.  Nothing is more common than that article.  A housewife speaks of her supply of Parmesan, like in Germany one would speak of the supply of onions or of parsley.  The cheeses of England, of Holland, of Switzerland, are the ordinary dessert.” 1

At least among the elite, this might not have been much of an exaggeration. Household records from noble families of the time suggest that they regularly spent significant sums on imported cheese. A register from the Vorontsov family lists a round of Parmesan, a tin of Stilton, a round of Swiss cheese, and 20 funts (more than 8 kilograms!) of “English Chester” cheese in the household stores. 2 They also suggest something else—that a housewife was less likely to speak of her supply of Parmesan than her husband might have been. Parmesan might be used in cooking, but the other cheeses appeared primarily as part of the zakuski table, the display of pre-dinner snacks presented separately from the main meal, and part of the man’s world. In the records of the Golokhvastov family, most cheese purchases appear in the account books of the man of the house, not in the general kitchen expense accounts. 3
Continue reading

  1. Bagatelles.  Promenades d’un désœuvré dans la ville de St.-Pétersbourg, vol. 1 (St.-Pétersbourg: L’imprimerie de Pluchart et cie., 1811), 181-2.
  2. RGADA f. 1261, op. 2, d. 668, l. 14 (it also listed 200 bottles of olive oil, 6 bottles of tarragon vinegar, 20 funts of mustard powder, and 5 poods of coffee)
  3. RGADA f. 1264, op. 1, dd. 169, 294, 305
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The Case of the Dead Cheese Master. Part I: The Body

On the morning of August 8, 1799, the peasant Pavel Spiridonov found a dead body on the road near his village. And he found not only “a dead male unknown body,” but close to it a saddled chestnut horse. What had happened, and who was this man?

Spiridonov was the local sotskii or “hundreder,” a peasant constable or guard, and he immediately turned to the zemskii sud, the district-level land court, for help. The district doctor and a district police officer by the name of Krivoshein were called in to consult. The police officer reported that they found no signs of violence on the body. The doctor gave more information about the state of the corpse: the man suffered from gangrene (антонов огонь) caused by “frequent consumption of spirits.” The doctor also reported that the death had been “sudden,” a fact that suggested that this chronic (over-)consumption of alcohol likely caused the man’s death. The exact mechanism of that death was still unclear. Was the man riding while drunk, and as a result fell off the horse, killing himself in the process? Or had he had some sort of attack caused by the gangrene or the drink, died, and then toppled off the horse’s back?

The horse wasn’t talking, but at least these reports suggested that there had been no foul play in the man’s death. As a result, the only task left was to identify the body. This, however, was no simple matter. Spiridonov, as the village constable, would have recognized any local man. This man was no local, nor was he recognized by anyone in the area.

The only thing that was immediately apparent was that “this unknown man was probably of moderate means (из людей посредственных).” The proof of this was his clothing: “a dark green flannel overcoat, a coat and waistcoat of coffee-colored cloth, white linen trousers and a fine cloth shirt.” No other personal items were found on the body.

This kind of detailed description of clothing was a normal part of identifying dead bodies. Once local newspapers (Gubernskie vedomosti) were established in many provinces at the end of the 1830s, they often featured notices of “found dead bodies” in need of identification. Descriptions of the bodies focused on where they had been found, and to a certain extent on their physical description—their facial features, height, and hair color. But perhaps because those physical descriptions were often made difficult due to decomposition, the notices most of all focused on the clothing and possessions of the dead bodies.

The report from the land court is unclear on how exactly identification was eventually made. Presumably the clothing helped, as did the fact that the man was only recently dead (though death in August was not ideal for identification purposes). Whatever the process was, it took some time. The body was discovered on August 8, and a first report was sent to the governor’s office on August 10. Only on August 22 did the head of the court, Kruze, present a report identifying the body: he was indeed no local, but instead a master cheese-maker named Tengli (or Tingeli or Tinguely), by birth Swiss, and before his death working for the palace administration of Gatchina, one of the many imperial residences outside St. Petersburg.

This identification solved the problem facing the lower court. But who this man was, how he got to be there, and what he left behind, remained questions for those who dealt with the aftermath of his death, still to be uncovered.

(RGIA f. 491, op. 1, d. 365, ll. 39-39ob)

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On beards

Beard types, from

Beard types, from infographics/1236527

With a post title like that, you might not be surprised to hear that I am lecturing on Peter the Great tomorrow. I always wondered a bit how his beard tax worked in practice, and I was a bit thrilled to see an example of it at work in a file when I was doing research on my book on soslovie.

On first glance the file (RGADA f. 742, op. 1, d. 493) is a straightforward one: in July 1749 the Kursk merchant Nikifor Prokofiev Rastorguev petitioned the Kursk magistracy, asking to be released from his status as a merchant in order to enter a monastery. He promised in his petition that his son would take over his business (and his taxes and duties). The case went smoothly; in February 1750, the Kursk town starosta reported that the town society agreed to free him, and the magistracy finalized its positive decision in May.

This was all normal. What wasn’t normal was an incident report from the Kursk governor’s chancellery regarding Nikifor Prokofiev’s unlawful facial hair.

In January 1750–after Nikifor Prokofiev had petitioned, but before his petition had been granted–he was spotted by a local official “at the bazaar in a beard and in unlawful dress.” Called before the chancellery, Nikifor Prokofiev did indeed turn out have “beard and whiskers unshorn and unshaved” and to be dressed in “a fur, a caftan, a Russian shirt and with no tie.” This was counter to the laws then in force, which stated that anyone unshorn and dressed in Russian clothing was suspected of Old Belief and thus liable to prosecution.

Nikifor Prokofiev had an explanation for his dress: he was getting ready for his entrance into the monastery, and was not and Old Believer. The beard (and dress) was premature, but not as unlawful as it could be.

There’s no more follow up on this incident in this file; the letter from the Governor’s chancellery seems only to have spurred the Magistracy to follow up on the original petition. I was still glad to see it, though, because it gave a new angle to this initial moment. The beard tax always provokes a bit of laughter–the idea of a beard tax token (look! you can buy your own beard-tax token replica bottle opener!) seems so particularly silly. But realizing that even decades after its initial institution, a guy could get hauled in for questioning because of it (even if with no ill effect this time) made it seem a bit less silly and a bit more serious.

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The Ebola Czar and American Czars in General (Open Thread)

So the NY Times is proclaiming that Obama is thinking about creating an ‘Ebola Czar‘.  One of the oddities of the modern American world, indeed, is a love of the idea of a “czar”: almost any time a major public issue arises (war, drugs, health care, urban policy, Katrina, Ferguson) there are calls, often completely unironic and bi-partisan in nature, to create a ‘czar’ to govern that issue.

Why does a putatively democratic, constitutional, secular order–which generally celebrates itself as the republican Rechtsstaat incarnate–feel the need to constantly call for the invention of a figure who by definition rises above all representative institutions and laws, and does so by “God’s grace”?  I have always found this odd but insistent echo of Russian history in U.S. life to be baffling.

How do Americans understand the concept “czar”?  Does it match what we, as historians, think about the meaning of the concept? (And here I recognize that not everyone may agree with what I just said about tsars, to use the more standard scholarly spelling.)  What explains the particular hold the image of “the czar” has on the modern American political imaginary?

I thought I would open a thread here on this question.  Any thoughts and discussion?

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Just in Time for Teaching (English Language Sources for Russian History)

There may be a few teachers out there working on syllabi, as well as students and other researchers considering topics in Russian history.  For decades, the great Anthony Cross has helped scholars discover the corpus of English-language testimonies about Russia and the Soviet Union.  I’m pleased to note that his latest, comprehensive bibliography has just appeared, under the title In the Land of the Romanovs: An Annotated Bibliography of First-hand English-language Accounts of the Russian Empire (1613-1917), from Open Book Publishers in Cambridge.  The entire text is freely available on-line, in a Wiki edition.  Paper copies can also be purchased on demand.

Authoritative and well-annotated, it provides a huge body of accessible sources for teachers and students to mine.  Thank you, and congratulations, Professor Cross!

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Article Review: William G. Rosenberg, “Reading Soldiers’ Moods: Russian Military Censorship and the Configuration of Feeling in World War I,” American Historical Review 119, no. 3 (June 2014): 714-740.

In this post, I’m hoping to use the Russian History Blog platform to explore a different form of scholarly communication – the article review. Articles are of course reviewed all the time, but normally anonymously and with the aim of assessing their suitability for publication. After publication, however, authors are lucky to get more than a few lines of comment in a fellow scholar’s work or glancing attention in a footnote. A happy conjunction of forces – finishing my own large project and then opening my latest issue of the American Historical Review to see an article by Bill Rosenberg on a topic I’ve thought a bit about – allows me to do one now. Continue reading

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Myth, Memory, Trauma – Untidy Thoughts

Having re-read the various posts on Polly’s book, including her latest entry – which assembles comparative cases in order to highlight what was and wasn’t distinctive about Soviet memory of the Stalin era – I think it might be useful to point out a number of issues that have gone unremarked or unresolved in the discussion so far. While I don’t expect all questions or areas of disagreement among us to be resolved, I do want to push back a bit against the current tendency in the humanities to generate a multitude of individual theses and anti-theses, but to leave unfinished the work of debate and synthesis, which requires discriminating between stronger and weaker arguments. Or, to put it another way, we often seem to conclude our group discussions with questions, ambiguities, and divergences at the expense of answers, testable hypotheses, and syntheses. Of course posing a good question is the indispensable first step in any intellectual endeavor. One of the hallmarks of a good question, however, is its ability to facilitate a good answer. Continue reading

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Myth Memory Trauma–What De-Stalinization was not

De-Stalinization has often been defined in terms of what it was not: not as complete and aggressive as de-Nazification (though Stephen Cohen has argued that the Soviet Union came close to its own Nuremberg trial in the early 1960s); not as determined as the later German Vergangenheitsbewältigung; not as far-reaching as de-Leninisation (or indeed, the preceding few years of de-Stalinization) in the Soviet Union of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though these have been the main points of comparison in writing about the ‘thaw’, others might easily be added to the list, especially given the ‘memory boom’ of recent years. De-Stalinization also wasn’t a process of ‘truth and reconciliation’, of the type still unfolding in post-Apartheid South Africa; and it wasn’t a process of lustration, such as occurred in many, though far from all, parts of Eastern Europe in the 1990s.

If we are going to draw these unflattering comparisons, with their emphasis on the ‘bad faith’ of the leadership, their lack of true repentance or commitment to confront the culprits of the past (including their own guilt), we should also pause to consider what else de-Stalinization was not. It was not the decades of uncomfortable near-silence about a difficult past, as explored by many historians of post-war Germany, by Henri Rousso in his classic study of post-Vichy France, by Tony Judt in his masterful overview of dysfunctional post-War European memories, and further afield, in recent studies of the systematic silencing of the ‘dirty war’ in Argentina. Far less was it, at least in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, a complete failure to confront historical wrongs in public, political discourse: for all that ours is an age of ‘memory wars’—to use Alexander Etkind’s term—many battles to expose the truth about the past still never reach the public domain, or remain marginal to it, as is arguably true of the history of empire in my own country.   Continue reading

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Myth, Memory, Trauma – Coming to Terms

In his initial post, Denis Kozlov mentions a number of keywords – key, that is, to public discourse during the Khrushchev era as well as to Polly’s wide-ranging analysis of that discourse – and calls for “closer attention to this language.” The terms he has in mind include “1937,” “sincerity,” “truth,” “Leninism,” “liberalism,” “narodnost’,” and “partiinost’.” In contrast to Polly, I read Denis as asking not for these terms to be defined a priori, but rather for us to pay closer attention to their shifting meanings and usage over time. If I understand him correctly, Denis is calling for a Begriffsgeschichte of the central terms of de-Stalinization. If so, then I would endorse his call while pointing out that, as Karen Petrone noted, Polly’s book focuses on narrative more than on the shifting meaning of individual words. And her attention to narrative produces handsome returns: as Polly shows in one of my favorite chapters of Myth, Memory, and Trauma, Simonov and other authors “reinvented the original master plot of the Soviet novel, seeing the war as an obstacle (albeit on a much larger scale than those of the 1930s production novel), whose overcoming attested to the strength of national character” (210). To write a Begriffsgeschichte would be to write a different book, based on a different kind of research. Continue reading

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Myth, Memory, Trauma – Soviet Exceptionality?

Like Ben, I’m inclined to think that, comparatively speaking, the “memory work” of the 1950s and 60s in the Soviet Union was distinctive. I’m struck, however, not by the constancy of the gardener, who’s always tending to memory’s blooms, but by the inconstancy of the gardener, who keeps changing his mind about what needs to be watered and fertilized, what needs to be trimmed back and uprooted. This is very different, I think, from postwar West Germany and united Germany, where after an initial period of reluctance, the state sought very aggressively and successfully to make Holocaust remembering central to a new German identity. That is not to say there were no sacrosanct elements in the Germany’s wartime past, as there were in the Stalinist past. It took longer, for instance, to acknowledge the crimes of the Wehrmacht than the SS, longer to grapple with the Sonderweg conception of the Holocaust than with idea that genocide was the product of a few deranged Nazi leaders. Rather, the trajectory of memory in postwar Germany is characterized by fewer reversals and u-turns, fewer contradictions and ad hoc refinements than in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 60s. It is simply impossible to imagine Konrad Adenauer denouncing Hitler in the spring of 1956, then emphasizing Hitler’s achievements during the summer and fall. But this sort of schizophrenia was part and parcel of Soviet politics in the 1950s and 60s.

I’ll be curious to hear what Polly makes of the distinctiveness of her study.  Is there a parallel elsewhere, marked by similar vicissitudes, for the “memory work” that occurs in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 60s? What were the longterm implications of the Soviet Union’s tortured attempts to come to grips with its Stalinist past?

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Myth Memory Trauma–Narratives and Subjects

I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the participants for taking the time to read my book so carefully and to comment so insightfully. It is a cliché, but in this case a true one, that all of the people involved have inspired me for many years with their own work. In some of the comments, indeed, one can recognise their distinctive approaches to the post-Stalin period, which have shaped and stimulated my own, rather different approach. To Denis Kozlov and Ben Nathans, for example, who ask why the book does not examine questions of intelligentsia and dissident writing and identity respectively, the easy answer would be that your work does, and very well too! However, these questions about coverage raise more substantive issues about the ways in which past and more recent historiography have conceived of the ‘thaw’ and de-Stalinization, which my book aims to rethink. In the following, I explore these issues further, clustering around the two main themes that run through the blog comments so far: narrative and terminology; and subjectivity.


In the discussion so far, I am struck by the number of synonyms and metaphors for de-Stalinization. Not that this should be a surprise: the period, after all, was named (albeit somewhat misleadingly, as Steve Bittner and Miriam Dobson have argued) after an ambiguous literary metaphor. Here, Ben Nathans develops metaphorical thinking furthest in his vivid account of the ‘constant gardening’ of Soviet public memory, while Steve Bittner describes the ‘delicate surgery’ of cutting away the most shameful aspects of the Stalinist past while leaving the body politic intact. Other terms used in the discussion so far include memory ‘management’ and ‘re-packaging’, the latter proposed by Denis Kozlov as a corrective to my title’s broader term, ‘rethinking’. I do not disagree with any of these terms, or their implications, and some in fact capture my intentions at least as well as my own terms: they all imply, correctly, that I am above all interested in the manipulation and control of ‘official’ or ‘public’ memory—and, as Steve Bittner says, with its inevitably only partial success. What motivated me to write this book was a growing impatience with the narrative of de-Stalinization as a spontaneous return of the truth about the past after Stalin’s death, with at most a brief catalytic function assigned to the party’s discourse of de-Stalinization. Continue reading

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Myth, Memory, Trauma – The Constant Gardner

When reading Polly Jones’ stimulating book on Soviet memory of the Stalin era, I found myself thinking about two other works that helped establish the memory of collective trauma as a distinct field of humanistic inquiry: Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory (1975) and Saul Friedlander’s edited volume, Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution” (1992).  Both explored the challenges of depicting liminal experiences – the First World War and the Holocaust, respectively – in a variety of fictional and non-fictional genres.  Both can help us think comparatively about what Jones calls the “memory work” undertaken by the protagonists of her book.

Seen comparatively, perhaps the most distinctive if unsurprising feature of the Soviet case is the role of the Party-State as constant gardner in the field of memory. Whatever the season – thaw or freeze – the gardner is there, planting, cultivating, pruning, weeding. The gardner has a diagnosis for all the ills that beset the garden: the cult of personality. The gardner has a device to ensure that those ills never reappear: socialist legality. And for those who tell the story of the garden’s ills, the gardner knows the correct idiom: Socialist Realism. True, weeds keep coming up, and it’s increasingly difficult to discern the garden’s layout, but no one can overlook the presence of the gardner.  Continue reading

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Myth, Memory, Trauma – The Stalinist Past and the Post-Soviet Present

I should start by admitting that I read an early version of Polly’s book proposal and manuscript a few summers back while sitting under an umbrella on a Lake Michigan beach. I was enthusiastic then about Polly’s project, so it is a special pleasure to see the final result, even if the locale for doing so–my windowless office on campus–is decidedly less inspiring than where I first encountered Polly’s project.

While I was working my way through Myth, Memory, Trauma, I happened upon Vladimir Sorokin’s recent piece in The New York Review of Books. Sorokin argues that late-Soviet and post-Soviet Russians have been far too passive in confronting the Soviet past: “All those Party functionaries who became instant ‘democrats’ simply shoved the Soviet corpse into a corner and covered it with sawdust. ‘It will rot on its own!’ they said.” The result was the eventual restoration of Soviet and even Stalinist ways under Vladimir Putin: a cult of personality that makes savvy use of digital and popular media, a campaign against “national traitors” that recalls 1937, and a carefully calibrated rejection of Western values that once again presents Russia as an uncorrupted “Third Rome.” At least in Ukraine, Sorokin argues, the recent “Leninfall” (a translation of leninopad, the toppling of statues) indicates a more cathartic and complete reckoning with the Soviet past.

Continue reading

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Myth, Memory, Trauma: On Rethinking versus Repackaging the Past

Let me begin by thanking Steve Barnes for inviting me to comment on Polly’s book. I am glad that this blog provides such a valuable opportunity for informative discussions of new scholarship in our field.

The book is based on extensive archival research, and it presents a broad overview of discussions about the Stalinist past in Soviet high politics and public culture, mostly the literary world, between 1956 and 1969-70. Because the concept of the “Stalinist past” is very vast, it is worth delineating first what the book considers under this rubric. Mainly, the Stalinist past is epitomized here by three of its crucial phenomena: Stalin’s cult of personality, the terror (designated in the book by the date ‘1937’ and mostly referring to the peak phase of repression in the late 1930s), and the tragic blunders and losses of human life during the Second World War, which many in the Soviet literary world of the 1960s came to blame on Stalin and the effects of the terror.

Continue reading

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Myth, Memory, Trauma – Narratives and Complications

It is an honor to be asked to discuss Polly Jones’s Myth, Memory, Trauma: Rethinking the Stalinist Past in the Soviet Union, 1953-1970.  This masterful analysis of the response to de-Stalinization is meticulously researched and powerfully argued.   There are two things in particular that stand out about this important work. The first is the messiness of its tale and the second is the way that Jones uses the idea of narrative to understand the ebb and flow of de-Stalinization.

Jones problematizes  the conventional timeline of two waves of de-Stalinization: the first through the Secret Speech and the second through the removal of Stalin from the mausoleum.  While both of these key moments came “from above,” Jones shows the complexity of the space in between them by examining the reactions of Soviet leaders, Soviet intelligentsia, and ordinary letter-writing citizens to the dilemmas of how to move forward while somehow acknowledging both past traumas and the role of Stalin in the successes and failures of Soviet history.  The diversity of approaches and the range of public opinions that Jones uncovers on this issue is truly stunning.  This outpouring of opinion about what should be remembered and memorialized also stunned leaders at the time who realized that both the powerful de-Stalinizing critiques of the Soviet system and the equally powerful defenses of Stalin were challenges to the current Soviet leadership.  By describing this complexity and messiness, Jones has reshaped our understanding of social dynamics of the Khrushchev era.

The second element of the work that I’d like to emphasize is Jones’s focus on narrative. The leaders and writers of the Khrushchev and early Brezhnev eras were trying to construct a story about Soviet history that would have popular resonance and that would sustain the legitimacy of the Soviet Union going forward.  As a result, trauma that was not narrated within an optimistic frame of heroism or ultimate redemption through the victory in World War II was seen by critics as particularly dangerous to the Soviet project.  Yet a narrative that glorified Stalin while completely ignoring the suffering that he caused was also seen as dangerous because it might offend victims and call forth dissent.  Thus the leaders, writers, editors, and readers engaged in a common project to shape a narrative that would acknowledge victims while celebrating Soviet achievements, that would recognize Stalin as leader while admitting his mistakes.  These negotiations swung back and forth over the time period from 1953 to 1970 resulting in the publication of both powerful anti-Stalinist works and moderate pro-Stalinist tracts. By 1970, the bland, middle of the road “both bad and good Stalin narrative ” had triumphed because by being “on the fence,” this narrative prevented extreme reactions from both sides.  It could then be safely repeated over and over again.  Jones’s insights here are particularly powerful and engaging.

My opening question for the author is this: in the introduction to the book, Professor Jones discusses the debates about Soviet subjectivity, but in the conclusion, she does not return explicitly  to the question of what her findings about complexity and negotiation over Soviet narratives reveal about this debate.  I would like to know more about her thoughts on this issue.


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Myth, Memory, Trauma: A Blog Conversation

For this edition of Russian History Blog’s “Blog Conversations,” we have gathered a distinguished group of scholars to discuss Polly Jones’s new book, Myth, Memory, Trauma: Rethinking the Stalinist Past in the Soviet Union, 1953-1970 (Yale University Press, 2013). Having devoted our blog to a discussion of The Stalin Cult two years ago, it seems only fitting that we discuss Soviet attempts to cope with that cult and other difficult aspects of the Stalinist past in the first two decades after the dictator’s death.

Generally, we have thought of this “thaw” primarily through through the lenses of Khrushchev’s “secret speech” at the 20th Party Congress in 1956, the removal of Stalin’s body from the mausoleum after 1961′s 22nd Party Congress, the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and a few other notable works in the journal Novyi mir, only to have the “thaw” undone by Khrushchev’s ouster in favor of Leonid Brezhnev in 1964. Jones draws on a wide array of sources and intellectual approaches to paint a more complex and more interesting picture of Soviet approaches to the Stalinist past during and even after the Khrushchev years. Continue reading

Posted in Blog Conversations, Historiography, Myth, Memory, Trauma, Nostalgia and Memory, Russian Literature, Soviet Era 1917-1991, Soviet Intelligentsia, Stalinism | Leave a comment

History in the Crimea & Ukraine Today

Protest in Kiev, December 2013

History is being blithely tossed about these days by everyone from Vladimir Putin himself to Sarah Palin and John McCain. What is the real story? Is there a real story?

To answer that question, I invited two eminent historians – well, one historian and one historically minded political scientist, Serhii Plokhii and Mark Kramer, both of Harvard, to speak at MIT on this exact situation. They spoke on Monday (3/17), the day after the Crimean Referendum and the day before the Russian President’s speech. Continue reading

Posted in Cold War, Crimea, Current events in the Putin Era, Nostalgia and Memory, Post-Soviet Russia, Russia in World History, Russian History in Popular Culture, Teaching Russian History, Transnational History, Ukraine, Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Whither Crimea? Vignettes from the Archives of Kyiv and Moscow

[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Jeff Hardy of Brigham Young University. Jeff has previously been a guest of Russian History Blog in our Gulag-related blog conversations. See his previous posts at Russian History Blog here.]

Let me preface this post by disclaiming that I am not an expert on Ukraine, let alone Crimea.  I have lived in and done archival research in Kyiv, and I teach the history of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, which includes plenty of material on Ukraine.  But my specialty is the Soviet Gulag in the Khrushchev era, not anything having to do with Ukraine per se.  My hope with this post, therefore, is only to offer a few personal anecdotes of how Crimea was viewed in the late 1940s and 1950s.

So why was I in Kyiv doing research?  Quite simply, because it’s virtually impossible to access Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) records from 1960 onward, and I wanted to tell the story of the Gulag up to 1964, when Khrushchev was deposed.  That led me to do research in Tallinn, in Vilnius, and in Kyiv.  Tallinn and Vilnius, of course, were beautiful cities with remarkably open-access secret archives.  Kyiv, while also beautiful, presented some more interesting archival experiences, a few of which touched (barely and briefly) on Crimea.  Continue reading

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Scalar for Historians (Tutorial)

Just a quick follow-up to my earlier post about Scalar, an open source web authoring tool produced by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, of which the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities is a member.

We’re trying out teaching with it this term in the History Department, and are creating a tutorial–“Scalar for Historians”–to aid with these efforts.  Feel free to use it, and I’d love to hear any suggestions or about other experiments with Scalar.

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