2009 Distinguished Contributions to Slavic Studies Award Winners
The 2009 Distinguished Contributions to Slavic Studies Award, which honors senior scholars who have helped to build and develop the field of Slavic Studies through outstanding scholarship, teaching, and service to the profession, was presented to Leopold Haimson, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History and the Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of Eurasia at Columbia University, in recognition of his work on the social and political history of Imperial Russia and the origins of the revolutions of 1917.
Leopold Haimson was born in Brussels to parents who were refugees from the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1940, when Haimson was thirteen, his family fled the invading German army, escaping first to unoccupied France and then to the United States. He received his BA (1945) and his PhD (1952) from Harvard University. After graduation he worked for several years on a project on Soviet culture directed by Margaret Mead. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1956 until 1965, before moving to Columbia University, where he remained until his retirement. During these years, in his famously demanding seminars, he mentored several generations of graduate students, many of whom went on to distinguished careers.
Haimson’s influential first book, The Russian Marxists and the Origins of Bolshevism (1955), was notable for its artful weaving of intellectual history and psychologically acute biographies of leading revolutionaries. In 1964 he initiated a catalytic debate with the publication in Slavic Review of a two-part article on the viability of late imperial Russia on the eve of the First World War and the inevitability of revolution. In the 1970s and 1980s he took a more comparative approach to the study of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary Russia, working with the sociologist Charles Tilly and the economic historian Giulio Sapelli on strike waves and revolutions in an international perspective. He has continued to publish widely on the social and political history of Russia before and during 1917. During the Soviet era Haimson worked hard to set up collaborations with Soviet colleagues, and he developed close ties with the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris. Throughout his career he has shown a deep interest in questions of individual and collective identities, drawing on cultural anthropology to explore Russian political culture and on psychology to analyze the actions of key individuals in the period he has studied in such a rich and productive way. This award honors a scholar and teacher of great intellectual breadth and a powerful advocate of collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to history.