Gulag Town Company Town

Gulag Town, Company Town – First Response

First of all, I want to thank: Steve Harris and Steve Barnes for taking the time to organize these blog conversations; Ana, Ekaterina, Asif, Wilson, and Jeff for taking the time to read my book with such care and offer their comments; and Yale University Press for facilitating the discussion. Second, I want to apologize for how long it’s taken me to formulate my first response. I’ve been traveling, and this has prevented me from sitting down to write something that is equal to the very high standards set by my fellow participants!

I’ll now take some time to respond to some of the questions and comments that the panelists have offered, in the hopes that this will then spark more questions and conversation about my book. I’ll start with what seem to be some common themes in the responses.

Gulag Boss

Gulag Boss – Railroad, Region, and Memory

First of all, thanks to Steve for including me in this remarkable forum, and thanks to all the other participants for their insightful comments about the book.  Clearly the blog provides an opportunity for a different kind of scholarly interchange than the usual book publication and book review cycle.

Gulag Boss is a fascinating memoir that I read with great interest, both as a scholar and as a teacher.  It raises a number of fascinating issues and questions, many of which I will address in my forthcoming book review in the journal Gulag Studies.  But in the interest of not duplicating that review or my colleagues’ posts, I will focus here on the book’s relevance to the study of one region of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Far North, in particular the territory of the Komi Republic.  I have more than an abiding interest in this region, as I am currently finishing a book on the history of Vorkuta, the camp complex turned company town located on the site of the largest coal basin in European Russia.  Mochulsky’s camp, Sevpechlag, was created to build a railroad to connect the coal coming from Vorkuta’s mines to the transportation network of Northwestern Russia.

One of the first trains bound from Vorkuta to Leningrad with coal during World War II. The banner reads, "10 Eshelons to Heroic Leningrad!"