Current and Past Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Fellows
2020 Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Research Fellowship Recipients
Elizabeth Abosch, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “The ‘Outcry from the Criminal Soul:’ The Social Imaginary of Song, Community, and State Power in the Soviet Union, 1920-1980”
Samuel Finkelman, University of Pennsylvania, “Ghetto, Gulag, Geulah: Jewish Nationalism, Inter-ethnic Encounters, and Collective Memory of Catastrophe in the Post-Stalin Soviet Union, 1953-1982”
Kamal Kariem, Princeton University, “Believing Conservation: Altering Land Relations and Indigeneity on the Bikin River”
Harrison King, University of California, Berkeley, “From Porous Frontier to Cold War Boundary: A Biography of the Russian-Ottoman and Soviet-Turkish Border, 1878-1991”
2020 Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Completion Fellowship Recipients
Matthew Honegger, Princeton University, “Stalinist Cultural Diplomacy and the Origins of Soviet-U.S. Musical Exchange, 1925-1960”
Matthew Klopfenstein, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Performing Death, Embodying Modernity: Media Spectacle, Public Emotion, and Modern Selves in the Celebrity Funerals of Russian Female Performers, 1859-1919”
2019 Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Research Fellowship Recipients
Tyler Adkins, Princeton University, "Talkan in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Making, Working and Consuming in the Late-Soviet Altai Mountains”
Ismael Biyashev, University of Illinois at Chicago, “Beyond Myths and Ruins: Archaeology and Nomadism in Russia, 1850-1925”
Geoffrey Durham, University of Pennsylvania, “The Standards of Evaluation: Weights, Measures, and the Politics of Building a Russian Imperial Economy, 1775-1857”
W. Forrest Holden, University of Michigan, “Disciplining Belief: Gender, Superstition, and Witchcraft Persecution, 1760-1860”
Svetlana Ter-Grigoryan, The Ohio State University, “There is No Sex in the USSR: Sex, Soviet Identity, and Glasnost”
2019 COHEN-TUCKER DISSERTATION COMPLETION FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENTS
Nicholas Bujalski, Cornell University, “Russia's Peter and Paul Fortress: From Heart of Empire to Museum of the Revolution, 1825-1930”
Virginia Olmsted-McGraw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Soviet by Design: Fashion, Consumption, and International Competition during Late Socialism, 1948-1980”
2018 Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Research Fellowship Recipients
Lyudmila Austin Michigan State University, “Migration, Nation and Selfhood in the Northern Caucasus since the 1970s”
Michael Coates University of California, Berkeley, “The Sources of Soviet Knowledge: A History of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia”
Rebecca Johnston University of Texas at Austin, “The Soviet Ministry of Culture: Governing Enlightenment after Stalin”
Karl Krotke-Crandall Washington State University, “The Holocaust in Russian Life: New Perspectives on Soviet Jewish Memory”
Andrei Tcacenco University of California, Santa Cruz, “The Culture of Complaint: Morality and Intimacy in the USSR, 1953-Present”
2017 COHEN-TUCKER DISSERTATION RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENTS
Simon Belokowsky, 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"
COHEN-TUCKER DISSERTATION RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP WINNERS
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“The ‘Outcry from the Criminal Soul:’ The Social Imaginary of Song, Community, and State Power in the Soviet Union, 1920-1980”
My dissertation, “The ‘Outcry from the Criminal Soul:’ the Social Imaginary of Blatnaia Pesnia, Community, and State Power in the Soviet Union, 1920-1980,” will examine the creation and function of a social imaginary of the criminal underworld in Soviet history from 1920 to 1980, from the jazz performer Leonid Utesov’s first years in the Soviet limelight as a performer of blatnaia pesnia—criminal, underground, and prison songs—to the songs of Arkadiy Severny, the “king of underground music." My research will reveal the history of a seldom studied but dynamic genre of Soviet music. I investigate the paradox of the popularity—or perhaps, necessity—of this social imaginary of a criminal society that had no right to exist in the Soviet project. My dissertation will the ways that people engaged with it to negotiate what it meant to be a Soviet citizen, and their relationship with state authority. It will interrogate the effects and of audiovisual technologies of the twentieth century on popular and mass culture, and the influence on or appropriation of folk cultures into mass culture.
University of Pennsylvania
“Ghetto, Gulag, Geulah: Jewish Nationalism, Inter-ethnic Encounters, and Collective Memory of Catastrophe in the Post-Stalin Soviet Union, 1953-1982”
This dissertation explores the encounter between Jewish and Russian nationalist intellectuals and activists in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, focusing on their mutual efforts to construct collective memories of national catastrophe. The protagonists are Soviet Jews who endeavored to revitalize Jewish national consciousness throughout the Soviet Union in the decades following “the black years” of postwar Stalinism, and their Russian interlocutors. The project’s main primary source base is the self-published literature, or samizdat, these activists and intellectuals produced and disseminated to galvanize national identity throughout the 1960s-1980s. Soviet-Jewish national activists’ exchanges, tensions, and affinities with their Russian counterparts--particularly over the topics of nationally experienced suffering, incarceration, and political violence--motivated new Jewish thinking about nationhood, political community and homeland. Exploring the common ideas and dilemmas, the interactions and exchanges, that linked the Jewish and Russian national movements, this dissertation shows why forces traditionally thought of as hostile to Jewish interests nonetheless significantly influenced Soviet Jews in their formulation of a politics rooted in national redemption, or what Jews call in Hebrew "geulah." Ideally, this reassessment of late-Soviet Jewish nationalism will stimulate further research on how inter-ethnic exchange paradoxically invigorated nationalist politics throughout the Soviet Union in the post-Stalin era.
“Believing Conservation: Altering Land Relations and Indigeneity on the Bikin River”
My proposed project broadly investigates environmental governance in the Russian Far East (RFE) through the lens of the recently founded Bikin National Park. Founded in 2015, this National Park is located in the Pozharskii District of Primorskii Krai with offices in Luchegorsk and Krasnyi Yar. Research for the project would primarily occur in Krasnyi Yar and on the Park’s territory and in Vladivostok. This Park is the only protected area in Russia, which has goals not only for the protection of biodiversity but also for the preservation of indigenous culture and traditional ways of life. The largest indigenous group in the region of the Park is the Udege, a small-numbered indigenous people (an official legal designation). From exploratory research conducted during winter 2018, many Udege are happy with the arrangement and the protection of their traditional lands. This satisfaction with the National Park stimulates my research interest in the Bikin National Park as a potential model for how protected areas and indigenous people could relate. Through my project, I aim to understand Post-Soviet transformations in nature, identity, and property triggered by conservation, with an eye toward how conservation work protects biodiversity and preserves cultural practices and ways of life.
University of California, Berkeley
“From Porous Frontier to Cold War Boundary: A Biography of the Russian-Ottoman and Soviet-Turkish Border, 1878-1991”
My dissertation explores the entangled histories of the Soviet Union and the Turkish Republic through the prism of state and nation-building campaigns in the former Russian-Ottoman borderlands. Focusing on the provinces of Batum, Kars, and Ardahan, annexed by the Russian Empire in the Russo-Ottoman War (1877-78), I trace the remaking of this multiethnic frontier as it was divided between two revolutionary states after the First World War. Through a bottom-up comparison of Soviet and Turkish modernization drives in Batumi in Soviet Georgia and Kars in eastern Turkey, I juxtapose the process of building a multinational socialist state in Transcaucasia with the equally transformative drive to construct a homogeneous Turkish nation-state, underscoring the affinities between two utopian political projects that aimed to reshape their societies in radical ways. Grounding my research in the experiences of predominately Muslim populations as they encountered and contested Sovietization and secularizing Kemalist reforms at the local level, I demonstrate how similar post-imperial trajectories unfolded across the Soviet-Turkish border as internationalist Bolsheviks and Turkish nationalists observed each other closely and violently enacted their kindred visions of modernity. Lastly, as both states became increasingly concerned with securing their borderlands and forging “ideal” citizens, I show how fruitful cooperation and anti-imperialist solidarity during the interwar period descended into a bitter Cold War rivalry that persisted until the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.
Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Completion Fellowship Winners
“Stalinist Cultural Diplomacy and the Origins of Soviet-U.S. Musical Exchange, 1925-1960”
“Stalinist Cultural Diplomacy and the Origins of Soviet-U.S. Musical Exchange, 1925-1960” recovers an early history of Soviet efforts to forge musical ties with the United States. Drawing on institutional records, correspondence, scores, recordings, memoirs, and published and unpublished music criticism gathered through extensive archival work in the United States and Russia, I reassess this contact's extent and legacy. I trace its beginnings during the interwar period, its culmination during the Second World War, and its demise and transformation during the first years of the Cold War. My work tells an institutional story of how and why the intimate model of Stalinist cultural diplomacy came to be replaced by the formal and highly publicized reciprocity of Cold War cultural diplomacy and a microhistorical story about the ways in which the idiosyncrasies of state-backed exchange shaped personal relationships, memory, emotions, and self-fashioning. By emphasizing continuity between the interwar and postwar periods, I demonstrate that the “beginning” of Cold War exchange in the late 1950s was less a beginning than a reset, reconfiguration, and reimagining.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“Performing Death, Embodying Modernity: Media Spectacle, Public Emotion, and Modern Selves in the Celebrity Funerals of Russian Female Performers, 1859-1919”
In my dissertation, I analyze the public funerals of famous women opera stars, actors of the stage and screen, and popular singers as a social phenomenon in late imperial Russia. While scholars have recognized major public funerals as important social events in the Russian Empire, attention has focused almost exclusively on the deaths of male writers, thinkers, and political figures. Through five in-depth case studies, I demonstrate that female performers were the subject of some of the largest and most-discussed public events in Russian history at the time. I analyze the empire-wide press coverage of the deaths and funerals of these performers to argue that emotion, gender, and mass media were interrelated elements central to the history of the Russian public sphere in the tumultuous period before the 1917 Revolution. I argue that these funerals and the enormous press attention they generated show that these women were among the era’s most socially-resonant figures; their lives provided influential new models of modern identity rooted in an emotionally performative idea of sincerity, and their deaths were public spectacles prompting debate on pressing issues of cultural and social boundaries, health and the body, and the state of society.
“Talkan in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Making, Working and Consuming in the Late-Soviet Altai Mountains”
Tyler Adkins’ project seeks to understand the indigenization of late Soviet modes of life in present-day Altai Republic, Russia through an oral history of domestic food production in rural areas. More specifically, this research project examines the paradox of why the domestic labor of food production—ostensibly a “survival” of pre-Soviet rural economy— is now remembered by post-Soviet Altai people as an exemplary instance of the virtues of the Soviet way of life. In combining oral history with ethnography, this project aims to understand not only the late-Soviet period but also contemporary, post-Soviet Altai and its relation to its Soviet past: how do Soviet-era ways of living and working now appear as objects of nostalgic desire, rejection or emulation in the creation of post-Soviet Altai selves?
University of Illinois at Chicago
“Beyond Myths and Ruins: Archaeology and Nomadism in Russia, 1850-1925”
Bridging the divide between the disciplines of history and archaeology, Ismael Biyashev’s dissertation is the first attempt to write a history of the archaeology of nomadism in the Russian empire and the early Soviet Union, and therefore fills an important historiographic gap. Through the analytical framework of the imperial situation, his project builds on the existing historiography of knowledge production in the human sciences in the late-imperial and early Soviet context and introduces an international and intra-regional comparative element. Furthermore, he raises new questions about the nature of Russian imperial modernity and about the raptures and continuities between the late imperial and early Soviet contexts of studying nomadic archaeology. Cognizant of the post-colonial critique of the study of archaeology in the imperial context, his dissertation devotes special attention to native and indigenous historical actors in Southern Russia, Central Asia, and Siberia. Additionally, the case studies that he examines call into question the effortless transition between the imperial and national, thus reevaluating Russia’s trajectory as an imperial power. He considers how multiple imperial agents and subjects, including representatives of nomadic cultures under Russian imperial rule, self-proclaimed amateur archaeologists, and other actors interpreted and instrumentalized ancient nomadic material culture.
University of Pennsylvania
“The Standards of Evaluation: Weights, Measures, and the Politics of Building a Russian Imperial Economy, 1775-1857”
Durham’s dissertation investigates the drive to standardize the units of weight and measurement in the Russian Empire between 1775 and 1857. He begins with Catherine II’s attempts to implement metrological uniformity in order to foster commercial development, and end with the turn to replace Russian units with the metric system. He approaches these reforms as technologies of economy- and state-building enacted during a period marked by substantial territorial expansion, the Napoleonic Wars, and the renovation of imperial governance. In analyzing how the non-standardized metrological system functioned, he also explores why an ethos of standardization emerged in these years. Identifying nodes of support for and opposition to the reforms within the broader population is a central concern of his project. Through the reactions of peasants, merchants, landlords, industrialists, academicians, and bureaucrats he attempts to delineate the consolidation of interest groups along political and economic lines. This project is thus at once a study of the state’s plans to mediate commercial relations and of the people who constituted those relations.
W. Forrest Holden
University of Michigan
“Disciplining Belief: Gender, Superstition, and Witchcraft Persecution, 1760-1860”
W. Forrest Holden’s dissertation is a cultural history of magic-belief and witchcraft persecution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drawing on trial records, published divination pamphlets, and literary representations of magic and witchcraft, it considers the relationship between the Enlightenment notions of individual subjectivity, the decriminalization of witchcraft, and the increasing tendency to accuse women, rather than men, of practicing magic. Based on these sources, this dissertation argues that the Enlightenment understanding of gender that emerged in Western Europe informed the practice of witchcraft persecution on both the part of the state, and on the part of ordinary accusers in witchcraft cases.
The Ohio State University
“There is No Sex in the USSR: Sex, Soviet Identity, and Glasnost”
Svetlana Ter-Grigoryan’s dissertation argues that Soviet public discourse, scholarly studies, and cultural representations on and about sexuality acted as a site for Soviet people to explore and negotiate larger issues around Soviet identity, moral upheaval, and rapid reform. Between 1987 and 1991, Soviet people engaged in literary, cultural, medical, and legal debates about the role of sex and sexuality in Soviet society. Prior to glasnost, the official stance of the state was that sex primarily a means to an end: the conception of future Soviet generations. Glasnost allowed people to reconsider several aspects of everyday life, including sexuality. Her project helps expand a limited understanding of the perestroika years by looking beyond the immediate political and economic instabilities and highlighting the country’s social and moral battles. She explores the mutually-constitutive relationship between sexuality and anxieties regarding gender, family, crime, identity, morality, and more under late socialism. Additionally, her project contributes to a growing body of work in the history of sexuality in Russian studies by arguing that sexuality was integral to how people shaped their very identities as Soviet subjects vis-à-vis the Soviet system and state.
Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Completion Fellowship Winners
“Russia's Peter and Paul Fortress: From Heart of Empire to Museum of the Revolution, 1825-1930”
Nicholas Bujalski’s project is a cultural, intellectual, and spatial history of Russia’s Peter and Paul Fortress: founding site of St. Petersburg, mausoleum of the imperial family, and Romanov Russia’s most notorious political prison. Here the empire’s most illustrious dissidents – Bakunin, Chernyshevsky, Kropotkin, Trotsky – not only suffered, but also wrote novels and treatises, planned future political activities, and reimagined what it meant to be a revolutionary actor in tsarist Russia. As successive dissident generations learned to navigate (and narrate) the Fortress prison cell, this citadel was gradually transformed from a site of autocratic pageantry and mute discipline into a stage for the production of the radical self and, eventually, a soviet Museum of the Revolution. Tracing this development from 1825 to 1930 leads us to new insights into the birth of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia; the entwinement of symbols, spaces, and subjects in cultures of dissent; and the history of political imprisonment in European modernity.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“Soviet by Design: Fashion, Consumption, and International Competition during Late Socialism, 1948-1980”
Virginia Olmsted-McGraw’s dissertation examines the evolution of a Soviet fashion industry and the primary state institution of clothing design, the All-Union House of Design (ODMO). The ODMO could influence every level of production, as its designers not only designed clothing, but also advised factory managers, decided which clothing went into mass production, and bore responsibility for marketing. Designers believed that fashion could unify the Soviet Union on two fronts: at home, with citizens wearing Soviet-designed and manufactured clothing, and abroad, at international competitions, as a symbol of the USSR’s artistic and cultural dominance. Olmsted-McGraw studies the ODMO in order to gain a greater understanding of the artistic and cultural history of the USSR, the “cultural” Cold War, and the nature of the command economy. Her project draws on the methodologies of institutional, gender, cultural, and transnational history, which allows me to examine the ODMO’s place within the Soviet state and economy, the impact of the organization domestically and internationally, as well as the artistic and cultural context influencing design. Her study speaks to the limited scholarship on Russian, Soviet, and Eastern bloc fashion, to debates on Cold War competition and consumption, and to emerging discussion of everyday life and the nature of “late” socialism.
Michigan State University
“Migration, Nation and Selfhood in the Northern Caucasus since the 1970s”
My research explores the migration of the Russian-speaking population since the late-Soviet period, which concentrates on a case-study of migration to the Northern Caucasus. I focus on the heterogeneous, complicated circumstances relevant to this migration, which included not only the fraught “return” of millions of ethnic Russians to their titular nation, but also the movement of other displaced people to Russia. By focusing on the Northern Caucasus, I analyze how influxes of inter-ethnic migration, which included the arrival of many ethnic Russians who showed more affinity to their Soviet rather than ethnic or local affiliations, have affected social dynamics in the region. I investigate not only how regional policies attempted to institutionalize responses to these in-migrants, but also how “groupness”— as a relational and contextual process—transformed at the local level as a result. More explicitly, I consider to what extent—and how—influxes of various migrants contested and contributed to a space that changed dramatically over time as a result of numerously interconnected Soviet structural issues.
University of California, Berkeley
“The Sources of Soviet Knowledge: A History of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia”
My project is a history of the writing of the three editions of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia was intended to be a revolutionary encyclopedia of a new type, which would transform the way its readers viewed the world. It was to be the tool which would lay the groundwork for the development of an entirely new system of knowledge rooted in the Marxist principles of dialectical materialism. It was to break down the barriers between the disciplines erected by “bourgeois”, anti-materialist scholarship and to reconstruct humanity’s knowledge in a new, distinctly Soviet way. The precise interpretations of this task shifted from edition to edition, and at times the project took on a sharply nationalist tone. The vicissitudes of the encyclopedia project reflect the vicissitudes of the Soviet state’s changing attitudes towards and views on the usage of knowledge
University of Texas at Austin
“The Soviet Ministry of Culture: Governing Enlightenment after Stalin”
This is a study of the Soviet Ministry of Culture, from its conception in 1953 through the end of the Brezhnev era in 1982. The Ministry of Culture was an unwieldy fusion of six institutions responsible for everything from radio broadcasting and the circus to secondary education and the labor reserves. Its structure and staff changed rapidly and often during its initial years, as it failed to effectively handle such a broad mandate. Despite its role as chief executor of Soviet cultural policy for more than forty years, the ministry has received virtually no scholarly attention. Historians have long argued that culture in the Soviet Union was a vital tool for ideological indoctrination, and, in turn, industrial and agricultural productivity. But the Ministry of Culture tells a different story. My dissertation will redefine our understanding of Khrushchev's cultural “thaw” and Brezhnev’s proceeding crackdown by demonstrating how late Soviet leaders shifted away from a conception of culture as a vital component of the Soviet project and left cultural institutions to thrive or decay in the wake of their neglect.
Washington State University
“The Holocaust in Russian Life: New Perspectives on Soviet Jewish Memory”
My project explores the creation of collective memories of Soviet Jews by unpacking the influence of public-Soviet narratives on private-familial memories. By conducting oral history interviews and using qualitative analysis, my project seeks to explore how the collective memories of this Jewish body have changed over time through the exposure of the Soviet public narrative.
University of California, Santa Cruz
“The Culture of Complaint: Morality and Intimacy in the USSR, 1953-Present”
My research looks at Soviet republics outside the Russian Federation such as the Ukrainian and Moldavian SSRs, and takes a more localized approach to understanding the state’s campaigns to produce a moral Soviet citizen during the Postwar period of Soviet history. I look at how interactions between Soviet citizens in the periphery and Central Party organs resulted in a dynamic, negotiated understanding of socialist morality and concepts of the New Socialist Person in new discursive spaces of home entertainment, especially television and radio. Soviet citizens utilized mass media to spark debates about the meaning of Soviet identity, nationalism and morality, and sometimes to express outright hostility toward the Soviet state.
“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"