April 2013


Rosalind Marsh, “The Concepts of Gender, Citizenship, and Empire and Their Reflection in Post-Soviet Literature”

Although much has been written about the loss and rediscovery of various notions of Russian national identity since the collapse of communism, no scholarly works have hitherto attempted explicitly to link the three concepts of gender, citizenship, and empire in post-Soviet Russia. The aim of this article is therefore to attempt an initial approach to a new subject in relation to post-Soviet Russian culture. The first part will define my use of the terms “gender,” “citizenship,” and “empire,” in order to explain my underlying assumptions. It will then discuss some of the theoretical and methodological problems they engender in relation to contemporary Russian society and culture. The second part will present a brief analysis of how these issues have been treated in post-Soviet literature by both men and women, particularly in writings of the twenty-first century. The main focus will be on prose fiction and publitsistika (social and political journalism) by Russian writers, but reference will also be made to particularly important films, television series, and discussions in the media where they are relevant to the argument. The article will attempt to demonstrate that whereas the dominant discourses in contemporary Russian culture and the media are patriarchal and nationalistic, a few women writers in post-Soviet Russia have had some success in challenging the traditional “symbolic order” in their culture in relation to women, gender and nation.

Andy Byford, “Parent Diaries and the Child Study Movement in Late Imperial and Early Soviet Russia”

Parent diaries of child development and early upbringing--sometimes referred to as “mothers’ diaries”--are an important source in the historiography of Russian childhood. The article situates the production of Russian parent diaries, as practice and discourse, in the history of the Russian child study movement between the 1880s and the 1930s. It traces the key sociocultural and professional contexts in which parent diaries were initially promoted in Russia between the Great Reforms and the First World War. It discusses in greater detail two diaries published in the mid-1910s (those of A. F. Levonevskii and E. K. Krichevskaia) as examples of very different kinds of positioning of Russian parents on the boundaries of expertise in early child development, care and education (vospitanie). It then analyzes the way in which some Russian psychologists (especially N. A. Rybnikov) enrolled parental diary-keeping as an “objective” methodology in psychology in the late 1910s-early 1920s. In this context, it examines, as a counterexample, the idiosyncratic framing of the diary written by V. A. Rybnikova-Shilova (1923), in which, unusually, maternal subjectivity was explicitly built into the scientific legitimacy of a child development diary. The conclusion sketches out the fate of parent diaries, especially as a method and genre of psychology, up until and beyond the 1936 liquidation of Soviet pedology under Stalin.

Jeremy Hicks, “‘Too gruesome to be fully taken in’: Konstantin Simonov’s ‘The Extermination Camp’ as Holocaust Literature”

Konstantin Simonov’s article about Majdanek, entitled “The Extermination Camp” and published in Krasnaia zvezda on August 10, 11, and 12, 1944, has typically been dismissed as irrelevant to our understanding of the Holocaust, due to its downplaying of the extent of Jewish victims. However, a detailed analysis of Simonov’s article shows it to constitute not only the first but also a worthwhile attempt to grasp the unprecedented and unthinkable nature of the camps. It does so by consciously insisting on the position of the journalist as an immediate eyewitness, rather than as an ideologically authoritative interpreter, as was the Soviet norm. This enables Simonov to attempt to conceptualize the distinct nature of the extermination camp, as opposed to the concentration camp, to describe the gas chambers, intimating the experience of the victims, and to treat the enormous piles of footwear as a form of silent testimony as to the identity and number of the dead. In each case these are errors, but largely understandable and a function of the article’s merits as a significant step in the process by which humanity first confronted the inconceivable reality of the Holocaust. In common with most wartime Soviet representations of what we have come to know as the Holocaust, Simonov’s “Extermination Camp” is marred by a failure to convey the distinct nature and scale of Jewish victimhood, so that a deeper knowledge of this report enables a firmer sense of the still greater achievement of Vasilii Grossman’s The Hell of Treblinka.

Robert Dale, “The Valaam Myth and the Fate of Leningrad’s Disabled Veterans”

This article explores an enduring Soviet myth, the myth of Valaam. According to this widely believed story in 1946 or 1947 vagrant disabled veterans were forcibly cleared from the streets of Soviet cities and deported to Valaam, an isolated archipelago of fifty islands, approximately 250 kilometres north of Leningrad. These myths continue to be repeated by both historians and the general public, but little evidence has been provided to support them. This article provides original archival evidence about the myth’s two main components: the clearance of disabled veterans from the streets and their subsequent exile to Valaam. For the first time it demonstrates the existence of an invalid’s home on Valaam, but which challenges the “facts” of the myth. Attempts were made to clear the disabled vagrants from Leningrad’s streets, but these did not occur in 1946 or 1947, and were neither successful nor systematic. Although a residential institution for the elderly and disabled was established on Valaam, which had its own unedifying history, it was not a dumping ground for thousands of disabled veterans cleared from urban areas. The Valaam myth is a classic example of a “false myth”; a story with only a flimsy basis in reality, but which reveals wider truths about the circumstances in which the myth was generated, and the mentalities of the individuals and society which accepted it. Having established the reality behind the myth, this article uses the Valaam myth as a lens for examining the plight of Leningrad’s war disabled and the mentalities of those who believed and transmitted the myth. The article argues that these stories thrived because they were plausible, and it offers a number of explanations why Soviet citizens, and Leningraders in particular, believed this myth. Imperial and Soviet Russia had a long history of forced clearance of “socially marginal elements” and precedents of exiling them to isolated islands. Most importantly, Leningraders believed in the existence of a mythical dumping ground for disabled veterans because it accorded with their knowledge of the state’s coercive practices and their experiences of the treatment of disabled veterans.

Yuliya Minkova, “The Squid and the Whale à la russe: Navigating the ‘Uncanny’ in Dmitry Bykov’s ZhD”

In ZhD, Bykov tests what happens when a nation defines itself in terms of the ethnic community. In doing so he borrows from the demographic theories of Lev Gumilev, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Nicholas Marr, which pose modern Russians as a relatively recent and, therefore, non-native population while placing them in a long historical battle for primacy with the Jews. If Western literature of colonialism, such as Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, often conceives of the native populations as symbolically necessary to the ruling minority’s self-image, Bykov creates a silent majority whose deliberate disengagement from politics is the lynchpin of their survival. This attitude mocks contemporary Russians’ aversion to self-governance. The novel also parodies the “Nordic” spirit of the Russian army, whose main goal is to destroy itself (a dead soldier is a perfect soldier), and the Khazars (Jews) who deal in moral usury by making everyone feel indebted to them. The natives’ values, in the typical fashion of the “noble savage,” consist in cyclical time, shamanism, transparent language, personification of the land, and animal-like closeness to nature. What does this collection of clichés strive to accomplish? Perhaps to demonstrate that the “founding lies” of our “imagined communities” are so interwoven that any attempt at reification leads to absurdity. This article will examine the ways in which Bykov negotiates the different cultural narratives that comprise Russian identity by following Slavoj Zizek’s advice that the best way to subvert the racist attitude is by means of overidentification.


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