Some of you might remember review Maya Haber and I wrote of Miriam Dobson‘s book Khrushchev’s Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform After Stalin. Now there’s an interview I did with Miriam about the book on the New Books in Russian and Eurasian Studies site.
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By Sean — 4 years ago
Carl Schreck, who is so far the only journalist to cover the defunding of Title VIII, has done a service by writing another article on the issue. (The coverage might increase in the coming week. I did an interview with a Moscow Times reporter yesterday and his article should come out late next week.) In this latest piece, Schreck points out that such prominent officials such as Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Michael McFaul, the current US Ambassador to Russia, all received Title VIII funding at some point in their career. According to his most recent curriculum vita, McFaul got:
Research grant from the National Council for East European and Eurasian Research (NCEEER), 2008
Research grant from the National Council for East European and Eurasian Research (NCEEER), 1999-2000
Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, Title VIII grant from the Department of State, Hoover Institution, 1991-1992
International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) Fellowship, Moscow, USSR, 1990-1991
Ambassador McFaul has also severed as a board and selection committee member for IREX and ACTR. Therefore, McFaul’s current service to the United States government was made possible by money from Title VIII.
So if anyone is wondering about the real world relevance of Title VIII support, one need not look very far.
Unfortunately, McFaul hasn’t commented on the stripping away of Title VIII funds for this academic year. I’m sure his position prevents him from making public statements. Nevertheless, I assume he’s not happy about all this. Russian studies is McFaul’s specialty and he owes a lot to the US government’s past financial commitment. I’m sure he’s dedicated to the State Department allocating funds to Title VIII in the future. I only wish that given McFaul comes from academia, he could have exercised some patronage over the program. After all, before being tapped to become ambassador in 2012, McFaul served on Obama’s National Security Council as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on Russia and Eurasia Affairs. If that didn’t give him some pull behind the scenes, then what does?
Maybe the Ambassador can do his Russian and Eurasian studies colleagues and students as solid and start exercising some blat among his connections in the Obama Administration. And if he does do anything, I urge him keep in mind, this funding isn’t just vital to established scholars, it’s also critical for graduate students. Many rely on Title VIII funds for language training and dissertation research. Without this money, graduate students will face increased competition over already limited funds and, for many, their careers will be put on hold in an already economically precarious environment.Post Views: 151
By Sean — 12 years ago
Though the following has little do with Russia, (though one might think of it in terms of the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy forced down historians’ throats in the Soviet period), it concerns my profession and thus my livelihood. The state of Florida has passed and Jeb Bush has signed a bill banning “revisionist” history from Florida public schools. New York University professor Jonathan Zimmerman takes the bill to task in a column in the LA Times. Essentially, the bill prevents the teaching of “revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth.” American history is not to be taught as “constructed,” but based on historical “facts.” Forget that these nimrods in the Florida Legislature haven’t a clue about what they are talking about. I don’t think passing intellectual judgments on philosophy and complicated historical methodologies should be left to legislators. But references to such charged terms like “postmodernism” and French post-structuralism are enough to incite fear in those who are trying to protect the sanctity of American history. By sanctity, I mean a history that not only tells the story of the powerful in historical terms (usually a history where white, wealthy males are the primary historical agents), but more importantly reproduces their hegemony in the present. The rich and powerful’s right to rule is thus naturalized in history. The only role for history is, as Althusser suggested, to “reproduce the means of ideological reproduction.”
History in Florida public schools is not taught so students can challenge how there are many pasts, and a multiplicity of understandings of them. They are taught that there is a singular historical narrative for America. This of course is the worst aspect of “revisionism” in that it’s state sponsored. In addition, as Zimmerman cogently points out the bill is based on a misconception about the history of the historical profession:
“Ironically, the Florida law is itself revisionist history. Once upon a time, it theorizes, history — especially about the founding of the country — was based on facts. But sometime during the 1960s, all that changed. American historians supposedly started embracing newfangled theories of moral relativism and French postmodernism, abandoning their traditional quest for facts, truth and certainty.
The result was a flurry of new interpretations, casting doubt on the entire past as we had previously understood it. Because one theory was as good as another, then nothing could be true or false. God, nation, family and school: It was all up for grabs.
There’s just one problem with this history-of-our-history: It’s wrong.
Hardly a brainchild of the flower-power ’60s, the concept of historical interpretation has been at the heart of our profession from the 1920s onward. Before that time, to be sure, some historians believed that they could render a purely factual and objective account of the past. But most of them had given up on what historian Charles Beard called the “noble dream” by the interwar period, when scholars came to realize that the very selection of facts was an act of interpretation.
That’s why Cornell’s Carl Becker chose the title “Everyman His Own Historian” for his 1931 address to the American Historical Assn., probably the most famous short piece of writing in our profession. In it, Becker explained why “Everyman” — that is, the average layperson — inevitably interpreted the facts of his or her own life, remembering certain elements and forgetting (or distorting) others.”
As one UCLA historian said to me when I told him about the law, “Isn’t revising history our job!?” Indeed. I wonder if American historians will have to one day perform the American equivalent to Soviet historians’ “Lenin sandwich” to get around the censors. For those who don’t know what the “Lenin sandwich” was, it was when Soviet historians in the 1960s and 1970s would begin and end their works with a quote from Lenin to evade censors and basically write decent histories in-between.
Such is the present strength of anti-intellectualism in American political culture. To think I thought all these tired debates about “revisionism”, “postmodernism,” “relativism,” and historical “facts” were sorted out in the 1990s. God I hope that this isn’t a sign of their return, especially since the above terms have been so watered down and popularized that they hardly retain any of their former intellectual rigor.Post Views: 40
By Sean — 10 years ago
Steve Barnes, Assistant Professor at George Mason University, has set up a invaluable site called Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives. Barnes is an expert in the history of the Gulag. I had the pleasure of hearing paper of his at the “The Relaunch of the Soviet Project, 1945-1964” conference at the University College London in 2006. I especially look forward to his upcoming book on the subject.
Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives provides a comprehensive, nuanced, and sensitive picture of life in what was officially known as the Soviet Union’s Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies. The main exhibit, Days and Lives, gives a documentary run down of the experience of arrest, labor, suffering, dealing with criminal gangs, and how million died and survived imprisonment. It’s truly an amazing and much needed achievement in history and memory.
In addition to the exhibits on Gulag life, Barnes has also organized a series called Episodes in Gulag History. Episodes features conversations with scholars, writers, and others on different aspects of the Gulag system. So far there is only one conversation with University of Toronto History Professor Lynne Viola on her new book The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements. I’m sure many more will soon follow. Subscribe to their podcast feed to stay updated.
This site will be a great addition for my upcoming History of Russia class.
Thanks to James at Robert Amsterdam for drawing my attention to it.Post Views: 53