Andrew Jenks

Andrew Jenks is Professor of history at California State University, Long Beach, and Editor of the Journal Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History ( His first monograph, entitled Russia in a Box: Art and Identity in an Age of Revolution, explored the development of modern Russian identity through the village of Palekh — a celebrated center of Russian arts and crafts in the 19th and 20th centuries. Jenks became interested in environmental history when he discovered a Manhattan Project waste dump near his former home in Niagara Falls, NY. He began incorporating case studies in environmental crises into his courses at Niagara University and then at California State University, Long Beach. After working in archives and conducting interviews in India and the United States, he published Perils of Progress: Environmental Disasters in the Twentieth Century in 2010. The book uses four toxic waste disasters (Chernobyl, Minamata, Bhopal, and Love Canal) to examine attitudes toward progress and modernity across four seemingly distinct cultures and socio-political systems. Jenks argues that a condition of historical amnesia has made people believe that large-scale technological disasters are exceptional events, when in fact they are normal features of modern life.

Jenks’s most recent book is a biography of the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin ( The book contains elements of conventional biography, telling the story of Gagarin’s astounding feat as well as the challenges he faced in his personal and public life. It also examines Gagarin’s celebrity in Soviet and post-Soviet Russian culture. Gagarin, one part socialist realist hero and one part Russian playboy, became a kind of palimpsest, reflecting the fantasies, dreams, hopes, and ambitions of Soviet and post-Soviet Russian citizens.

As part of his most recent project on the political, cultural, and scientific meanings of international space missions Jenks was the 2013-2014 American Historical Association Aerospace Fellow at NASA. For some of the ideas that inspired this project, see:

Selected Publications

The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling: The Life and Legend of Yuri Gagarin. Northern Illinois University Press, 2012.

Perils of Progress: Environmental Disasters in the Twentieth Century. Prentice-Hall. 2010.

Russia in a Box: Art and Identity in an Age of Revolution. Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.

“Yuri Gagarin: The Sincere Deceiver,” in Asif Siddiqi, James Andrews, eds., Into the Cosmos: Soviet Culture and Space Exploration. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011, 107-133.

“Conquering Space: The Cult of Yuri Gagarin,” in Catriona Kelly, Mark Bassin, eds., Post/Soviet Identities. Cambridge University Press, 2012, 129-150.

“Model City USA: The Environmental Cost of Victory in World War II and the Cold War,” Environmental History 12 (July 2007): 552-77.

“Iconography, Power, and Expertise in Imperial Russia,” The Donald W. Treadgold Papers in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies no. 42 (June 2004).

“Palekh and the Forging of a Russian Nation in the Brezhnev Era,” Cahiers du monde Russe, vol. 44 (October-December 2003): 629-656.

“From Center to Periphery: Palekh and Indigenization in the Russian Heartland, 1917-1933,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, vol. 3 (Summer 2002): 427-58.

“A Metro on the Mount: The Underground as a Church of Soviet Civilization,” Technology and Culture, vol. 41 (October 2000): 697-724.

“Thinking Inside and Outside the Box: The Paradoxes of the Palekh Lacquer,” in Palekh — Icons to Souvenir Boxes to Icons (Washington, D.C.: Art Alliance LLC, 2008), 4-15.

“The Art Market and the Construction of Soviet Russian Culture,” in Lewis Siegelbaum, ed., Borders of Socialism: The Private Sphere in the Soviet Union. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, 47-65.

“The Russian Icon as an Instrument of Political and Social Control,” in Nicholas J. S. Pappas, ed., Antiquity and Modernity: A Celebration of European History and Heritage in the Olympic Year 2004. Essays from the 1st International Conference on European History. Athens, Greece: ATINER, 2004, 285-309.

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