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 , , , , , , , | 4 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

Posted in Archives, Crimea, Soviet Era 1917-1991, Ukraine | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer Research Lab 2014: At Your Service!

Are we hosting the Summer Research Lab this year at Illinois? You bet!  As in each of the previous forty years, we look forwardmain_quad.preview to seeing researchers of all disciplines and career stages here in Champaign-Urbana, to participate in workshops, consult with our famed Slavic Reference Service, and work in our fantastic library collections.  Have a project you want to start (or finish), but don’t have the money to go to Russia, East Europe, or the FSU?  Or have the money to go to abroad, but actually want to get some work done?  Join us!  Here’s the CFP: more info below the jump.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Amnesties of Tsar Vladimir

It seems obvious that President Vladimir Putin has chosen to issue the recent amnesties of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Maria Alokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and probably the Greenpeace 30 as a way to generate good will on the eve of his great personal project, the Sochi Olympics, into which he has invested enormous amounts of money and effort. With the amnesties (and his successful intervention in the Syrian civil war on 9/11 of this year), Mr. Putin is almost certainly hoping to create good will to offset the harsh criticism and threats of boycott he has received in conjunction with the Olympics. Yet this amnesty has a long history in Imperial Russia, one well worth examining. Continue reading

Posted in Current events in the Putin Era, Historiography, Imperial Russia, Post-Soviet Russia, Teaching Russian History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Win a beautiful book of posters – we have a winner!

Last month I wrote about a great new collection of posters by the Soviet artist Koretsky. The publisher, The New Press, very kindly offered a free copy to be won in a prize draw. On the blog / facebook page we had almost 30 entrants and using a random number generator we found a winner: Aisling H. Congratulations, Aisling – I’ll be in touch!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Russian Space History — Imagineering the Cosmos: Astrofuturism at the Movies

The continuum of images in Asif’s last post attests to the emergence of a distinct visual vocabulary of space flight long before it became a reality. It is not coincidental that the first of these images is from Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita, a 1924 film that enthralled moviegoers but left official critics scratching their head. In “Imagining the Cosmos,” Asif situated the film’s ideological complexity as well as its striking visuals within an astonishingly diverse network of early-twentieth-century cosmic enthusiasm. Here I would like to think about a different set of relations between cinema and the cosmos, based not so much on modes of representation but rather on the fundamental convergences between the process of making movies and the “co-production of imagination and engineering” long before space flight became a reality. The interface between engineering and imagination underlying the very apparatus and materiality of the cinematic medium — which becomes particularly visible in special effects — links the history of Soviet space culture with the spectacular pre-histories of its future projected on the big screen. Continue reading

Posted in Russian Space History, Soviet and Russian Space Flight | 2 Comments

Russian Space History – Imagery

As this week closes, I wanted to highlight that seems somewhat obvious to those with even a casual interest in the history of Russian/Soviet space activities, its incredibly rich visual record. The picture that Andy posted of cosmonaut Shatalov meeting Native Americans in the U.S. in 1974 is one perfect example of that record. I’m posting here 6 images from the pre-Sputnik era which I think capture interesting moments in this long and rich history with appropriate captions. I’ll post some images from the 1960s and 1970s in a separate post.

This is a still from Iakov Protazanov's famous film Aelita, based on the novel of the same name by Aleksei Tolstoi. Besides being an important harbinger of a modernist aesthetic in the history of Russian cinema, the movie helped to foster a popular interest in space travel. The actress playing Aelita, the queen of Mars was Iuliia Sol'ntseva who would later come a well-known director.

This is a still from Iakov Protazanov’s famous film Aelita (1924), based on the novel of the same name by A. N. Tolstoi. Besides being an important harbinger of a modernist aesthetic in the history of Russian cinema, the movie helped to foster a popular interest in space travel. The actress playing Aelita, the queen of Mars, was Iuliia Sol’ntseva (1901-1989) who would later come a well-known director.












Continue reading

Posted in Films, Russian Space History, Soviet and Russian Space Flight, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Russian Space History — Soviet Women in STEM Fields


Ogenek, June 1963

In a comment to my last posting, Asif noted that in “group photos of Soviet engineering teams from the 1950s and 1960s involved in the space program, there are a surprisingly high number of women in the pictures, surprising given their near-absence in the cosmonaut corps.” He wondered how many women in the 1950s and 1960s were, in fact, involved in science and engineering fields.

Pionerskaia Pravda March 1963

Pionerskaia Pravda, March 1963

As I noted in previous publications, the 1970 all-union census reported that more Soviet women than ever before were engineering-technical workers, their number more than doubling in ten years from 1.63 to 3.75 million.[i] Women’s influence in science and technology was evidenced, too, by increases in the number of higher degrees they earned in science, engineering, and technology fields. Official statistics published in 1975 confirmed that the number of female researchers among science personnel in the USSR had increased dramatically in the post-war period, from 59,000 in 1950 to just shy of 129,000 in 1960 to nearly 465,000 in 1974.[ii] That said, a 1971 study that broke down female accomplishment by branch of science showed that women in physics and math still lagged considerably behind men in the attainment of advanced degrees.[iii] And yet, it is significant to note that three out of four women awarded candidate and doctoral degrees in the 1971-73 period were in the natural and applied sciences.[iv]

Continue reading

Posted in Gender and Sexuality, Russian Space History, Soviet and Russian Space Flight, Soviet Science | 2 Comments

Russian Space History — Philatelists

This is in response to an interesting comment on my earlier post regarding the stamp image I used, which commemorated Aleksei Leonov’s 1965 space walk (http://russianhistoryblog.org/2013/12/russian-space-history-transnational-culture-and-cosmism/#comments). The comment noted differences between the United States and the Soviet Union. Not only was the Soviet Union more concerned with celebrating space feats on stamps, but Soviet cosmonauts were themselves directly involved in the creation and promotion of those stamps. After his flight Gagarin wrote an article on the theme of cosmonauts on stamps and carried on a correspondence with avid philatelists. Leonov, the cosmonaut-artist, actually drew the images that appeared on many cosmonaut-themed stamps (yet another illustration of how the cosmonauts promoted themselves above and beyond official state promotion).

A stamp celebrating Leonov's space walk

A stamp celebrating Leonov’s space walk

Cosmonautics was also celebrated on coins issued for various jubilees of Soviet space accomplishments. I’m not aware, though it is far from my specialty, of the extent to which American astronauts appeared on coins, if at all. With regard to the celebration of Soviet cosmonautics in various media Cathleen Lewis at the Air and Space Museum has done quite a bit of work.

Continue reading

Posted in Russian and Soviet Art, Russian Space History, Soviet and Russian Space Flight | 5 Comments

Russian Space History — Dreams in Orbit

Murzilka_Jan65In an oft-quoted remark, Svetlana Boym asserted that “Soviet children of the 1960s did not dream of becoming doctors and lawyers, but cosmonauts (or, if worse came to worst, geologists.” 1 This illustration from a December 1960 issue of the children’s magazine, Murzilka, suggests that even before Yuri Gagarin’s leap into the cosmos, Soviet children’s culture was compelling the USSR’s youngest citizens to commit their dreams to the stars.

As Monica Rüthers pointed out in a recent article, in the aftermath of Sputnik and Gagarin, the twin catapults of celebrity and propaganda bombarded children with irresistible images of success and personal possibility: “The strong and meaningful motifs of ‘childhood’ and ‘cosmos’ were used in combination,” Rüthers argues. “In their symbolic meaning, these iconographic motifs signified the belief in the country’s leading role in the future of mankind.” 2


In his initial posting to this conversation, Asif Siddiqi asked us to consider (among other things) “the co-production of imagination and engineering in Soviet space culture” and, more specifically, “the challenges of drawing connections between popular discourse and real world changes.” When it came to imagining their future selves, at least some among the first generation of space age children believed that they were living in a time and place where their dreams would come true. Consider the following excerpt from a letter written to Valentina Tereshkova by a girl in Irkutsk oblast:

I just finished the 4th grade, so at the moment I can’t think about a flight to the cosmos. Your deed made me very glad. I hope that when I grow up the success of our science and technology will stride far beyond the limits of outer space and in time no doubt there will be a flight for tourists to other planets. How fortunate that I live in this century, when my native people are capable of space flight and I know that my dream will also come true. 3

Continue reading

  1. Svetlana Boym, “Kosmos: Rememberences of the Future, in Kosmos: A Portrait of the Russian Space Age, Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001, 83.
  2. Monica Rüthers, “Children and the Cosmos as Projects of the Future and Ambassadors of Soviet Leadership,” in Eva Maurer, et. al., eds., Soviet Space Culture: Cosmic Enthusiasm in Socialist Societies, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 206.
  3. RGAE, f. 9453, op. 2, ed. khr. 151, p. 46-46ob
Posted in Cold War, Gender and Sexuality, Russian Space History, Soviet and Russian Space Flight | 3 Comments

Russian Space History — Transnational Culture and Cosmism

In balmy Culver City near Los Angeles, not far from the campus where I teach, there is a wonderful little museum called the Museum of Jurassic Technology (http://mjt.org/). The museum contains a Russian tea room and aviary on the roof. Next to the Russian tea room are two exhibition halls. One contains portraits of all the Soviet space dogs. Another is devoted to the life and myth of Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, whose translated technical works as well as science fiction are available in the museum gift shop. I often thought about that exhibit –and how odd it must be for casual visitors — as I worked about 40 miles to the south, in the place where Richard Nixon grew up, at the Nixon library and archives.


The Museum of Jurassic Technology room honoring Soviet space dogs

The Museum of Jurassic Technology room honoring Soviet space dogs

Continue reading

Posted in Russian Space History, Soviet and Russian Space Flight, Soviet Era 1917-1991, Transnational History | 3 Comments

Russian Space History – Part of Soviet History Without Tears?

I am not sure what provoked the outpouring of scholarship on the history of Soviet space culture over the past decade or so. Was it part  of the cultural “turn” that historians of the post-Stalin decades started to take in the 1990s? Did it have something to do with what historians of American space technology were writing? Or was the inspiration more proximate – maybe Vail and Genis’ chapter on the kosmos from their book on the Soviet sixties, originally published in 1988 but not immediately well known? Whatever its origin, the abundance of riches surely is a remarkable development. It is, among other things, transnational – the 23 authors who have contributed to these four books work in nine different countries. It also varies in emphasis and focus – pioneers and projects; myth and reality; gender, regional, and international political dimensions.

Continue reading

Posted in Russian Space History, Soviet and Russian Space Flight, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Russian Space History – A Blog Conversation

posterI am very excited to kick off the seventh conversation on the Russian History blog on the topic of Soviet/Russian space history. Instead of the usual focus on one monograph, we are using a number of recent texts that recover, explore, and rethink the intersections between “cosmic enthusiasm” (as the title of one of the books characterizes it) and Soviet/Russian culture. These are two individually authored monographs: my own The Red Rockets’ Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Andrew Jenks’ The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling: The Life and Legend of Yuri Gagarin (Northern Illinois University Press, 2012), and two edited books that have some overlap: Eva Maurer, Julia Richers, Monica Ruthers, and Carmen Scheide, eds., Soviet Space Culture: Cosmic Enthusiasm in Socialist Societies (Macmillan, 2011) and James T. Andrews and Asif Siddiqi, eds., Into the Cosmos: Space Exploration and Soviet Culture (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012).

The appearance of these texts (as well as many other books and essays on Soviet space culture in the past few years) suggests that academic interest in the topic has attained a critical mass that warrants some self-reflection. Before we launch this exchange, I wanted to introduce and frame the topic and then raise a few pertinent questions to serve as a catalyst towards more in-depth discussion.

Continue reading

Posted in Blog Conversations, Russian Space History, Soviet and Russian Space Flight, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

A Night in Karlag

Karlag Museum

Museum of Memory of the Victims of Repression in the Dolinka Settlement (Karlag Museum). Photo by Steven A Barnes

I recently had the pleasure of presenting a paper at a conference entitled “Legacies of the Gulag and the Memory of Stalinism” at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. My paper focused on public memory of the Gulag in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstani experience differs significantly from that in Russia, a topic discussed at the conference by Arsenii Roginskii, Nanci Adler, Alexander Etkind, Nikita Petrov, Andrei Sorokin, and others.

While the paper is perhaps too long for this forum, I wanted to share the portion of it discussing the “Night in Karlag,” a fascinating (and disturbing) recent moment in Kazakhstani public memory of the Gulag. The event raises interesting questions about the appropriateness of the experiential museum and historical reenactment for the portrayal of atrocity.

(Given recent news, it is certainly worth highlighting that this paper was made possible through in-country research supported by the U.S. Department of State’s now defunded Title VIII program via the American Councils for International Education.)

Continue reading

Posted in Gulag, Kazakhstan, Nostalgia and Memory, Soviet Era 1917-1991 | Leave a comment

Scalar and the Challenge of Writing Media-Rich Scholarship for the Web

Alright, I admit that title was a mouthful.  Basically, I just wanted to alert readers who may not have heard of it that there’s a new, web-based digital authoring tool called Scalar that they may find useful.  It’s an open-source application built by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at USC.  Unlike many authoring tools, it was designed by scholars for scholars, and more particularly by new media scholars for the new media environment.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Communism on Tomorrow Street–Some additional thoughts

Before heading up to Boston tomorrow for this year’s ASEEES conference, I wanted to add a few more thoughts on the conversation regarding Communism on Tomorrow Street. First, Karl Qualls raises an excellent point in his post about the motivations architects had in pursuing the ever-smaller dimensions of the single-family separate apartment. Continue reading

Posted in Communism on Tomorrow Street | Leave a comment

Win a beautiful book of posters!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by The New Press and offered a copy of their new publication, Koretsky. The Soviet Photo Poster: 1930-1984, for a prize draw to be launched from this site.  This beautiful edition includes 200 colour images as well as interesting commentaries from Erika Wolf, a visual historian based in New Zealand. If you would like to enter the draw, all you need to do is to read to the bottom and leave a post! Continue reading

Posted in Russian and Soviet Art, Soviet Era 1917-1991, Teaching Russian History, Uncategorized | 26 Comments

Communism on Tomorrow Street: Equality — and the limits of the social contract

In his very stimulating post, Steven Harris emphasizes again the egalitarian nature of Khrushchev’s housing drive. He goes on to suggest that this egalitarian approach, and especially the waiting list which filtered people’s broadly egalitarian expectations of access to housing, can at least partly be explained as a feature of the ‘Soviet social contact’, or the ‘state-society contract’. All of these issues are controversial, and I’m glad that he’s raised them. Continue reading

Posted in Communism on Tomorrow Street | Leave a comment

Communism on Tomorrow Street–some thoughts on egalitarianism and the Soviet social contract

First, I’d like to thank Steve Barnes for organizing this book discussion of Communism on Tomorrow Street, as well as the participants for their commentary thus far. They’ve provided far more food for thought and questions than I can address in one post, so I’ll address a couple now and save more for later.

In her original post, Christine Varga-Harris discusses the emphasis that I place on egalitarianism as a central feature in Khrushchev’s mass housing campaign. As it evolved over the course of Khrushchev’s years in power, this issue led to political embarrassment for Khrushchev personally (albeit behind closed doors) when party-state elites just a rung or two down from the Presidium overcame his resistance to the cooperative, which he claimed represented inequality. Continue reading

Posted in Communism on Tomorrow Street, Uncategorized | Leave a comment