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The Seminar on Slavic History and Culture was founded in 1968 on the initiative of the renowned scholar of Russian literature and specialist on Dostoevsky, Robert Belknap. It was initially conceived as a broad exploration of history, literature, and arts of the Slavic peoples, to include topics from economic development to religious and philosophic thought. Today, after many years bringing together the Slavic studies community in the New York City area, our Seminar continues to bridge the disciplines of literature, language, and history, with a focus on original research across the range of Russian and East European history, as well as a lively exploration of the contemporary literary and artistic scene. We are pleased to welcome a dynamic group of graduate students who bring their energy and enthusiasm to our meetings.

Professor Catherine Evtuhov

Professor Mark Lipovetsky

Tomi Haxhi

Meeting Schedule

10/22/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Russians, White and Red: A Story of Postwar Displacement and Migration
Sheila Fitzpatrick, Australian Catholic University


In the wake of the Second World War, Europe was full of “displaced persons” (DPs) from Eastern Europe, under the temporary care of international relief organizations. Russians were part of this mass of DPs, but almost invisible because many were passing as Poles or Yugoslavs, fearing forced repatriation to the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and suspicion of wartime collaboration, on the other. What to do with the DPs was one of the first postwar conflicts between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies. By 1947, the Western Allies - ignoring Soviet protests - had decided to resettle the DPs outside Europe, North and South America and Australia being the main recipients, along with Palestine/Israel for Jewish DPs. In this paper, I discuss this early Cold War conflict and the “second wave” Russian emigration that emerged from it, using Australia – the second largest recipient of postwar Russian immigrants, after the United States – as a case study.

12/10/2021 Online Meeting
6:00 PM
Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature Re-envisioned
Hilde Hoogenboom, Arizona State University


The study of literature in Russia in the nineteenth century significantly changes our perspective on that surprisingly small slice of the market that is Russian literature. According to my data, foreign novels accounted for around 90% of the market through the middle of the century. How did Russian literature rapidly come into its own within a few decades under this avalanche of European literature? The short answer is that what seems to be a problem was an extraordinary gift. Russians were among the most well-read readers in Europe in a literary market that was thoroughly integrated with European markets. They knew the European novels, many by women writers, and their translations that circulated internationally, constituting the fabric of nineteenth-century literary life. Russians had long been part of the central conversation of European literary, intellectual life. That conversation had begun in the philosophy, pedagogical treatises, and sentimental literature of the eighteenth century and continued in the sentimental realist literature of the nineteenth century. To understand that conversation, we have to reverse stereotypes of sentimental novels. Sentimental novels depict emotions, but they are about the moral drama of the restraint of passions, for the greater good, through duties to others. This was the sentimentalism that interested Adam Smith, Rousseau, and Jane Austen. Central to that conversation in the nineteenth century was George Sand. Sand may be the most studied of European women writers in Russia, but given her outsize international role, she is vastly understudied and not properly understood. Sand helped shape Russia’s novels, which becomes evident when we examine how Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia, Ivan Turgenev, and Fyodor Dostoevsky each in turn transformed her 1842 novel Horace into their early novels. They had inherited a problem that was central for Pushkin in Eugene Onegin and his prose: how to adapt European novels to Russia’s distinctive noble service culture.

02/25/2022 Online Meeting
5:00 PM
Translating Left After the Second World: The Sparks and Networks of Political Critique
Marijeta Bozovic, Yale University


The Polish journal Krytyka polityczna (Political Critique; in Ukrainian, Політична критика), internationally known and credited by many for resuscitating a post-socialist Polish left, sparked as many as five Ukrainian print editions and was hoped to serve a similar function in Kiev. Plans were underway too for a Russian Политическая критика, based around the St. Petersburg-based poetry journal [Translit] and the art collective Chto Delat, or What Is To Be Done. But the geopolitical events of 2014 (the aftermath of the Maidan revolution; Russia’s annexation of Crimea) brought a rift between Warsaw and St. Petersburg’s left: following bitter accusations of chauvinism on both sides, Chto Delat publicly rejected what they termed Krytyka’s vaguely messianic, imperialist, and ultimately liberal-centrist mission and the collaboration fell through. Yet the story of these Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian sparks and networks, rifts and connections, imperfect and impermanent collectivities is more than just the story of a particular institution. It gives insight into the new left (or lefts, of various shades of red) rising across the former Second World; and it is a story in which translation plays the central role.

03/25/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
"The Wicked Bullet": The "Ossetian Motif" in Osip Mandelstam’s Insult to Joseph Stalin
Ilya Vinitsky, Princeton University


In this lecture I reconstruct the literary and ideological genealogy of the “Ossetian myth” of Stalin’s origins in Osip Mandelstam’s poem, “We live without feeling the land beneath our feet...” (1933). I argue that in his verbal fight with Stalin the poet drew from Mikhail Dzhavakhishvili’s allegorical novel Dzhako’s Fugitives, written in the aftermath of the failed Georgian Uprising of 1924 and translated into Russian in 1929. The proposed textual and ideological relationship between Mandelstam’s poem and Dzhako’s Fugitives extends the list of the poem’s sources and suggests that in his attack on the tyrant as a demonized “other,” Mandelstam rhetorically aligned himself not only with the ambivalent tradition of Russian Romantic orientalism but also with the nationalist ressentiment myth of the Georgian intelligentsia.

04/29/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
“State socialism,” “State Capitalism,” “War Communism”: On the hypostasization of some German polemics in Soviet historiography
Adam Leeds, Columbia University


How did the Soviet Union ever claim to count as socialist? And how are we scholars now to handle that claim? In this talk, I will outline a series of polemics within German Marxism from the 1870s to 1915. I contend, first, that by means of these polemics an unnoticed series of conceptual shifts took place in the very meaning and ideal of socialism itself. Marx's socialism had been a radically democratic and explicitly anti-statist vision, yet by the time Stalin launched industrialization, Marxism's socialism imagined an industrial megastate. How could this have happened? I argue that the origins of this new vision of socialism were not any specifically political theoretical innovation, but rather the German theorization of late nineteenth century transformations of capital, specifically the emergence of the modern corporation. And this theorization of capital's new forms was the obverse of the greatest innovation of the first generation of Marxist theorists: the theory of imperialism. Second, I argue that this new model for socialism sedimented out of a series of intra-party polemics that produced, as their byproducts, a series of other concepts: "state socialism," "state capitalism," and "war communism."

By tracing these concepts back to the political contexts of their reaction, I aim to worry the scholarly usage of these concepts as historiographical and typological terms. When scholars use any of these terms about the Soviet Union, they are not beginning from an uncontested, innocent, or anodyne description that can be a prelude to narrative or theory building. Rather, they are employing already complex theoretical products that imply a series of intertemporal analogies between the Soviet Union and the political institutions and imaginaries of Wilhemine Germany. This places the scholar of Soviet life in more than a hermeneutical circle—it implies an unavoidable and uncomfortable self-positioning with respect to the political question of the nature and meaning of the Soviet Union.