Past Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Fellows
2017 Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Research Fellowship Recipients
Simon Belokowsky, Georgetown University, Georgetown University, “Internal Migration: Rural Migrants to Russophone Cities in the Post-Thaw Period”
Gabrielle Cornish, Eastman School of Music/University of Rochester, “Listening for Utopia: Music, Technology, and Everyday Life in the Soviet Union, 1960-1990”
Kathryn David, New York University, “Russian Orthodoxy and Soviet Nationalities Policy: Religion and Nation in the Postwar USSR”
Joy Neumeyer, University of California, Berkeley, “Dead Empire: Visions of the End in Late Socialism”
2016 Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Research Fellowship Recipients
Susan Grunewald, Carnegie Mellon University, " German Prisoners of the War in the Soviet Gulag: Life, Law, Memory, 1941-1956"
Erin Hutchinson, Harvard University, "The Village Strikes Back: The Cultural Politics of the Nation in the Soviet Union after Stalin"
Dakota Irvin, UNC Chapel Hill, "Revolving Doors of Power: How Revolutionary Ekaterinburg Became Sverdlovsk, 1917-1924"
Kelsey Norris, University of Pennsylvania, "Displaced Persons and the Politics of Family Reunification in the Postwar Soviet Union"
John Romero, Arizona State University, "'Socialist in Form, National in Context': Soviet High Culture and National Identity in the Tatar Autonomous Republic, 1953-1994"
John Seitz, Iowa State University, "Colonizing the Countryside: Scientific Agriculture and Colonial Control on the Kazakh Steppe, 1881-1928"
“Internal Migration: Rural Migrants to Russophone Cities in the Post-Thaw Period”
More than a million people moved annually from rural areas to the cities of the RSFSR in the 1960s and 1970s. In the dramatic (but by no means unique) case of Belgorod oblast, more than 60 percent of rural youth disappeared from the census rolls between 1959 and 1970 alone, having left for better opportunities in the factories, trade schools, and institutions of higher learning found in the province’s growing cities, never to return to the collective farms. My dissertation analyzes the ways these largely overlooked rural migrants to mid-sized Russian-speaking cities in the 1960s and 1970s adjusted to their new environments, approaching urbanization as a long-term process of social and cultural acclimation on the part of individuals rather than merely as a physical shift of population. With the nearby cities of Belgorod, in the Russian Federation, and Sumy, just over the Ukrainian border, as the focus of my investigation, I rely on sources including school, factory, and kolkhoz documents, judicial records, local Party newspapers, as well as oral histories to identify the changes in worldview and social practices that marked a transition to the city. At a fundamental level, I am interested in mentalities and the way they interact with culture in shaping experience – how rural individuals operated in the space of meanings, symbols, and practices that constituted their habitus. To investigate migrants’ integration into a primarily urban, late-Soviet modernity, I embrace the conceptual lenses and methodologies of historians and anthropologists studying other regions, ultimately building on the work of others in the Soviet field. Given that scholars of the Soviet Union increasingly embrace the possibility of “multiple modernities,” were newcomers to the late-Soviet city acted upon by a generic Soviet modernity, or did they help shape it, for example by appropriating modern objects and materials in their midst according to Madeleine Yue Dong’s model? Were Soviet migrants able to forge new information networks upon their arrival in the city or did the state’s attempt to assert a monopoly on information obviate that process in the Soviet case? Did the changes in sociability Steve Harris associates with the decline of the communal apartment extend to these often unsanctioned migrants? Answering these and similar questions will help us understand the lives of tens of millions who have been largely ignored by historians.
“Listening for Utopia: Music, Technology, and Everyday Life in the Soviet Union, 1960-1990”
Although musicology has dealt with the technological cultures of music in recent years, this work has largely centered on capitalist societies in Western Europe. Meanwhile, recent studies of Soviet music in the post-war period have largely focused on the stylistic features of art music. These approaches overlook socialism as a lived experience in which “ordinary” people, not just big-name composers, engaged with music as a part of everyday life. Without a broader analysis of music’s material cultures, we undervalue the impact of socialist economic systems, ultimately leading to a one-sided understanding of music’s function in the Soviet Union. In my dissertation, I intervene in these scholarly discussions by arguing that musical technology contributed to changing conceptions of a private sphere, individual agency, and personal leisure during late socialism. Combining archival material from printed documents, musical scores, and recordings with oral histories, I argue that musical technology in a broad sense—new instruments like synthesizers, DIY recording and broadcasting devices, and consumer audio products—enabled new modes of musical production, dissemination, and consumption. My project thus places music within a discursive network of state, communal, and individual experiences under Khrushchev’s utopian “fully realized communism” and Brezhnev’s more pragmatic “actually existing socialism.”
“Russian Orthodoxy and Soviet Nationalities Policy: Religion and Nation in the Postwar USSR”
The relationship between Russia and Ukraine has long been analyzed through the lens of the nation, from the advent of national thinking in the Russian imperial period to present day debates about what constitutes Ukrainian and Russian language, culture, history, and borders. As the events of 1946 demonstrate, religion was also an important field of contestation for both national activists in Russia and Ukraine and officials of the Soviet state. The 1946 “reunion” was a twentieth century version of a long-term imperial strategy in the region: competing polities claimed people and territory through transferring physical space as well as symbolic markers of culture and history from one church to the other. My project places the 1946 “reunion” as a new chapter in the process of defining Ukraine. The promotion of Russian Orthodoxy as an official Soviet policy, even during periods of “scientific atheism” in the 1960s and 1970s, to enact what was in effect a Ukrainian nationality policy shows that religion and nationality were not closed off from each other. I will explore the initial events and later reinforcement of the religious “reunion” through two interconnected questions. First, how did state-sponsored conversion create new connections between religious ritual and Soviet state practice? While religion may have been seen as a tool for Soviet policymakers, their choice to re-ascribe belonging for local priests and to alter religious spaces meant that both Russian Orthodoxy and Greek Catholicism were given new meanings as categorizations by those organizing and those included in the “reunion.” Second, how did religion become a register through which to classify and thus create new categories of people in West Ukraine? Inclusion and exclusion by means of religious tactics redefined Ukrainian-ness, Russian-ness and the categorization of West Ukrainian space.
“Dead Empire: Visions of the End in Late Socialism”
For 18 years, Leonid Brezhnev was the aging face of Soviet power. As the general secretary decayed on central television, popular jokes portrayed him as a living corpse. Yet the public decline of Brezhnev and the party gerontocracy is only the best-known aspect of a culture that was dying in many ways. In the late Soviet Union’s most popular songs, stories, and films, characters were shot, drowned, suffocated, and stabbed. In the 1970s, Soviet culture was obsessed with death. Never observed by scholars, this fixation runs counter to a recent trend in Soviet history that rejects traditional views of the Brezhnev era as a time of stagnation and instead asserts its vitality. My research will take the pulse of late socialism, weaving together images of the gerontocracy, popular health discourse, and cultural productions, examining who was dying and where in what would turn out to be the final years of empire. Why were sickness, decay, and death such a central part of the culture? My research on death in late Soviet culture will be a fresh entry in the historical debate about stagnation in the Soviet Union. The traditional “stagnation paradigm” holds that Soviet society in the long 1970s between Brezhnev’s 1964 assumption of power and Gorbachev’s perestroika was characterized by inertia in the party and state and cynical disillusionment among the citizenry. My dissertation integrates old and new approaches, considering the aging of the country’s political leadership together with its cultural effervescence. While rejecting Cold War-era rhetoric that sees Soviet society as inferior, I propose returning to the stagnation paradigm to place it on a meaningful new foundation—one that explores why fantasies about death occupied a central part of the late Soviet imagination, and what this may have meant for the fate of the system itself.
"German Prisoners of War in the Soviet Gulag: Life, Law, Memory, 1941-1956"
My dissertation will examine the role of German prisoners of war in the U.S.S.R. from 1941 to 1956. The Soviet government kept roughly 1.5 million German POWs in the Gulag system after the end of the war, the largest and longest held group of prisoners kept by any of the victor nations. The dissertation investigates the motives of the Soviet government in delaying repatriation. It explores the political, diplomatic, and economic motivations of the Soviet state, investigating the economic role the prisoners served in reconstruction, the diplomatic and legal tensions raised by repatriation, and the material conditions in the Gulag camps and labor sites. The dissertation also analyzes the varied meanings that prisoners attached to their experience. By comparing the memoirs written by those repatriated to East Germany with those repatriated to West Germany, it seeks to understand how narratives of the war and its meanings were constructed and framed in these two very different political settings during the Cold War. The dissertation uses both German and Russian published primary and archival sources to explore larger issues regarding Soviet prison labor, postwar diplomacy and international law, and the shaping of narrative among prisoners repatriated to the east and west.
"The Village Strikes Back: The Cultural Politics of the Nation in the Soviet Union after Stalin"
My dissertation focuses on the leading role that Soviet intellectuals played in the articulation of the nation during the period between Stalin’s death and the advent of perestroika. I explore how the Stalinist onslaught on the rural way of life, in combination with massive postwar urbanization, led to the formation of a new cohort of rural-born intellectuals in the Soviet republics in the 1950s and 1960s. My research explores how rural-born writers from across the Soviet Union—including Russian Village Prose writers— made common cause with members of the political establishment and the urban intelligentsia to promote their own particular national vision. In the decades leading up to perestroika, they sought to redefine the traditional village as the moral nexus of the nation, the church as a constitutive element of national character, and the national landscape as a spiritual resource. While remaining fully integrated into mainstream cultural life, these loyal intellectuals nevertheless developed a strand of thought that presented a powerful challenge to the Soviet moral order. My scholarship, which focuses on the RSFSR, Moldova, Ukraine, and Armenia, is the first to analyze Russian Village Prose writers as part of a broader, pan-Soviet phenomenon.
"Revolving Doors of Power: How Revolutionary Ekaterinburg Became Sverdlovsk, 1917-1924"
My dissertation traces the transformation of Ekaterinburg into Sverdlovsk by providing a political, social, and urban history of the city during the years of the Russian Revolution and Civil War. I focus on local institutions, such as the city government, the police, and the press, and their responses to the disorder of revolution as a way to examine the contested creation of new forms of political and social order. Ekaterinburg presents the ideal case to investigate this dynamic, as it changed hands five times after the February Revolution in 1917. My work also introduces new theoretical categories like “order” and “disorder” to the study of the Russian Revolution, and focuses on the development of practices and procedures by competing regimes at the local level to create and maintain stability. I also address the use of local histories and public sites of memory by the Bolsheviks to create stylized remembrances of the revolutionary period after the end of the Civil War in 1920, and show how this process became central to Ekaterinburg’s transformation into Sverdlovsk. Finally, given Ekaterinburg’s unique experience, mine will be the first work to treat the Imperial, Provisional Government, Bolshevik, and White regimes comprehensively.
"Displaced Persons and the Politics of Family Reunification in the Postwar Soviet Union"
Recent scholarship has focused on displaced persons in Western and Central Europe and revealed that European states endeavored to repatriate DPs and reunite them with their family members out of a conviction that rebuilding war-torn families would help reconstruct war-devastated nations. Does this conception of postwar family reunification hold when we broaden the geographical scope to consider the experiences of the over five million externally displaced Soviet citizens and the approximately 16.5 million Soviet citizens and thousands of Polish citizens displaced within the USSR? Did the Soviet regime also engage in this postwar European project to bolster the family in order to rebuild the nation? Or did the early Bolshevik vision that the state would ultimately supplant the family influence the regime’s response to displacement and family separation? Based on preliminary archival research in Moscow, I hypothesize that the Soviet regime’s management of family reunification was shaped by its prewar history of population control. I argue that Soviet officials were most responsive to appeals from families separated across the new postwar borders in order to facilitate the repatriation of Soviet citizens but did not devote sufficient resources to reunite Soviet families separated internally within the USSR.
"'Socialist in Form, National in Context': Soviet High Culture and National Identity in the Tatar Autonomous Republic, 1953-1994"
My project examines the evolution of Soviet nationalities policy in the years after Stalin’s death through the collapse of the Soviet Union. Focusing on the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), the project explores the roles of cultural institutions, notably operas, theaters, and philharmonics, as well as corresponding state bureaucracies and organizations, such as the Tatar branch of the Union of Composers, in delineating and maintaining Tatar national identity. I argue that the linkage between Tatar national culture and Soviet cultural institutions represents a reversal of Lenin’s proclaimed nationalities policy of “national in form, socialist in content,” and that, by the 1950s and beyond, Tatar bureaucrats and artists consciously used Soviet socialist forms to present national content. Moreover, I argue that the continuation of Soviet nation-building policies in the decades after Stalin’s death, a period almost completely overlooked by existing scholarship focusing on the 1920s and 1930s, was instrumental in the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse along national lines and in the origins of nationalist discourses among Tatars and other minority groups that still reside within the boundaries of the Russian Federation.
"Colonizing the Countryside: Scientific Agriculture and Colonial Control on the Kazakh Steppe, 1881-1928"