A “memory revolution”: soviet history through the lens of personal documents
Conference venue: Moscow, Russia
Period: 7-8 June 2017
Deadline for submitting proposal: 1 March 2017
This event is intended to build on and extend a series of major international conferences organized by the International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences of the Higher School of Economics: “World War II, Nazi Crimes, and the Holocaust in the USSR” (2012); “Russia in the First World War” (2014); “Europe, 1945: Liberation, Occupation, Retribution” (2015) and “Stalinism and War” (2016).
Description of the Event
The 1990s brought about a revolution in the study of Soviet history. This was symbolized by an “archival revolution”, i.e. the declassification of many official documents from the Soviet period, which were made available to historians. At the same time, through the disclosure of personal texts written during the Soviet period, there was another and no less important “revolution of memory,” allowing for a better understanding and evaluation of the Soviet period. There were diaries, whose existence had been concealed by their owners for many years. There were also memoirs suddenly brought to light that had not been intended for publication. Along with letters, personal photographs, audio recordings and amateur films, these sources from the Soviet period allow for the recreation of a multi-faceted picture of public sentiment in the Soviet Union.
The conference aims to examine the significance and role of personal sources in the study of Soviet history. We want to go beyond an analysis of “Soviet subjectivity,” the construction of the “socialist self,” and related approaches. Above all else, we wish to draw attention to unconventional texts and personal documents, which differed significantly from the official Soviet view of reality. Thematically, we will discuss sources on any period of Soviet history, but the analysis of the history of World War II and the Holocaust in the Soviet Union is particularly welcome.
Eligible topics for the conference
The conference organizers welcome proposals addressing the following questions:
What do we mean by personal sources, and where is the line between personal and official sources? To what extent does the category of personal sources include, for example, records of interrogations that sometimes turn into a confession by the accused, letters to the authorities, or denunciations?
What is the informational value of individual personal sources and how do we solve the problem of their verification? In particular, how productive is it to compare the information contained in personal sources with that of official Soviet documents that reported public opinion, including surveys from the security organs and Party committees, societal statistics, investigation files, etc.?
Who wrote diaries and memoirs during the Soviet period, and why? What was the motivation of those authors who supported the official Soviet view of events? Likewise why did those who produced “non-canonical” diaries and memoirs feel compelled to write?
How can we identify new personal sources?
How should we reckon with the fact that the majority of the population did not leave any personal sources? How does this affect the representativeness of personal sources in the analysis of society as a whole?
What are the problems of analysis, and the value, of non-textual personal sources, such as photographs, audio recordings, and amateur films?
What influential works and approaches to the analysis of personal sources from other areas of history are most applicable to the study of documents about Soviet history?
Finally, to what extent does the research on individual personal sources shed light on more general issues of the history of Soviet society?
They invite creative responses to these questions, and call on scholars from all disciplines to adapt and interpret the conference’s framework imaginatively, in terms of their own original research.
The working languages of the conference will be Russian and English.
Guidelines for submission
The deadline for submitting paper proposals (in English or Russian) is 1 March 2017. Successful applicants will be notified by 15 March 2017.
Submissions should include (1) the name of the applicant, institutional affiliation, postal and email addresses; (2) a brief CV; (3) a short statement explaining how the applicant’s research relates to the conference topic; (4) a one-page outline of the paper. Proposals are invited in Russian or English and can be for both individual papers and panels. Proposals and inquiries should be e-mailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The organizers will assist international participants with obtaining visa invitations to Russia. Meals (coffee breaks, lunches) will be provided. The conference organizers have limited funds to cover (partially or in full) participants’ airfare and accommodation costs for the duration of the conference. We ask prospective participants who will need financial assistance to indicate this in their submissions.
Program Committee of the Conference
Oleg Budnitskii, Professor of History, and Director of the International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, National Research University – Higher School of Economics
Michael David-Fox, Professor of History, Georgetown University, and Academic Advisor, International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, National Research University – Higher School of Economics
Alain Blum, Research Fellow, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (CNRS, Paris)
Gennady Estraikh, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University, and Leading Research Fellow, International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences, National Research University – Higher School of Economics
Oleg Khlevniuk, Leading Research Fellow, International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences, and Professor of History, National Research University – Higher School of Economics
Benjamin Nathans, Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
Lynne Viola, Professor of History, University of Toronto, and Leading Research Fellow, International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences, National Research University – Higher School of Economics
International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences/National Research University – Higher School of Economics (Moscow)
The Friedrich Ebert Foundation. With additional support from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington, DC), the Center for Russian, East-European and Caucasian Studies (Paris), the Franco-Russian Research Center (Moscow) and the Blavatnik Family Foundation