Category Archives: Featured

So, what is “class-sourcing”?

Courtesy of Daniel Iverson
Courtesy of Daniel Iverson

Prof  Gleb Tsipursky teaches in the history department of The Ohio State University, Newark Campus. He researches Soviet and post-Soviet history with particular interests in youth, modernity, social controls, popular culture, consumption, emotions, the Cold War, cultural diplomacy, crime, and violence.

Here is a brief introduction to his research:

[youtube_sc url=”″]

Gleb has recently started experimenting with “class-sourcing.” Tomorrow he will tell us about what this is and why he does it. I will soon follow with a discussion of how I have adapted Gleb’s idea in one of my current courses.

We look forward to and welcome your input.


A Dead Blog? No, just a ridiculously long hiatus.

Courtesy Llewi034 at en.wikibooks
Courtesy Llewi034 at en.wikibooks

After nearly a year’s absence, I am again starting to blog on teaching history. The past year has been devoted to teaching blogging and many other media to my students. Now, I want to return to talk to other professionals about teaching methods.

I know that many of us are in a quandary when it comes to combining teaching and technology. Years ago I gave presentations on how to use PowerPoint in the classroom. How quaint that sounds now. Presentation programs like PowerPoint and Prezi are now ubiquitous in classrooms. Most professors don’t think twice about using presentations to accompany their lectures and discussions. Like many readers of this blog, however, the integration of technology into the classroom learning experience poses different problems. Most problematic: how to balance coverage of content (always a problem for historians) while at the same time teaching students skills that they will need after they leave college. Historians have long been comfortable teaching students to write papers as a means of assessment. Then we began to focus more carefully on writing pedagogy in our classrooms. This takes more time away from the “stuff” we want students to learn, but teaching good writing is a skill that all students need to learn. The newest conundrum is teaching students how to use technology. Just as writing is a process of thinking, so too can technology aid the learning process.

Over the course of this semester I will be providing my thoughts on teaching with technology both to develop skills, but also to reinforce learning of content in the courses.

In the coming days Gleb Tsipursky will join the blog to discuss his “class-sourcing” projects. I have adapted Gleb’s model for a Russian history course I am teaching this semester. I will be updating this blog on my course’s progress, and hopefully some of my students will contribute their thoughts.

Please join in the conversation.

Technology and Teaching

Courtesy Nixdorf at the English language Wikipedia

Well, it has been some time since my Willoughby training at Dickinson on how to use various technologies more effectively in the classroom. Not all topics, like 3D printing, were relevant for the courses I teach, but I learned about more methods and media than I can possibly wrap my head around at this point. For now, I am integrating just a few items, primarily in my First-year seminar on utopias, so that I can extend my learning curve over a number of semesters and begin to see how the technologies effect learning and the workload for professor and students.

The easiest of the technologies to introduce is the blog. When teaching in London a few years ago I used the blog extensively as a way to extend the conversation beyond the classroom. At first the dialogue did not happen organically. But through some repetition, instruction, and prompts, the quality of the posts and comments dramatically improved. Students learned how to write texts (and I view the blog primarily as a way to teaching writing and critical thinking in a new medium), post still and moving images, embed walking tours of the city with Google Earth, and more. In my current First-year seminar we are learning the basics of posting, tagging, and commenting. This weekend the students will have their first audio blog, in which they use Audacity to produce a podcast, which they then post with some minimal text to the blog.

We will also be working with video projects near the end of term. Students will practice with iMovie and Audacity to produce a multi-media final project. For their training session, they will use still and moving images from an upcoming field trip to Eastern State Penitentiary to produce a video blog. I think it is important that students have an introduction to these technologies, but my chief intention is to strengthen writing and thinking. For a video project, one has to master more than the technology. Storyboarding teaches students to organize their thoughts, think about what is most critical to their story, and imagine their audience. Without thoughtful content and a connection with the audience, we simply have visual candy. That is not the point of these exercises. By using digital media, I hope to get students to practice serious writing (their scripts) more and thereby improve their writing in general. The assignments also have students improving research and analytical skills.

I’ll let you know how the projects turn out and give you an update at the end of the semester about the time commitment for students and for me.

How do you use technology in your courses? Russian history is an easy venue for using Google Earth and maps, Twitter, blogs, and GIS. I’m hoping to use the latter in my Soviet history course next semester. If any readers have used GIS in their classrooms, please let us know.

Teaching Technology Training (in progress)

Courtesy Llewi034 at en.wikibooks

This week I am participating in Dickinson College’s Willoughby Fellows program. From 8:30 to 4:30 each day this week the ten fellows meet with our academic technology staff to discuss a host of technologies that we can use as teachers, but also that we can introduce to our students as tools to enhance their learning as users of these technologies. Over the course of the week I will be sharing a few of the bits that I have learned that I hope to use in future teaching not only in my Russian history courses, but also in other courses. Please stay tuned and give me your thoughts and provide our readers with examples of your use of technology in the classroom.

Today we are covering Delicious, Twitter, Google+, blogs, and beginning our discussion of digital storytelling. All in one day!!! I’ll let you know my first impressions.

Julie deGraffenried, Teaching Childhood in High School

Integrating Childhood, Children’s, and Youth History into High School History Courses

For three years after graduation from college, I taught social studies – all of them – in a small high school in rural Texas. I remember feeling alternately overwhelmed by (“how can I cover all of this?”) and constrained by (“why can’t I teach this?”) state-mandated learning objectives. Though I now teach at the university level, I am married to a high school teacher who reminds me, especially in the spring, how much pressure there is for secondary educators to “teach the test” so that their students will perform well on state exams.

All of this is to say: I feel your pain. I have no desire to add to your burden, high school teachers of America & the World. When I ask you to consider integrating childhood, children’s and youth history into your classes, I do so in the hopes that it will be an effective way to both cover those required objectives AND get your students excited about history. While I will mention sources from Russia that you can use in American history or world history, what I’m suggesting here can be applied to all kinds of sources on childhood around the world. I’m not proposing a rewrite of your existing curriculum, just some tweaking; speaking as a university educator, I would be really happy to know that incoming students had been introduced to the idea of children’s history.

Since most states require educators to use a “variety of rich primary and secondary source material,”[1] I’ll begin by suggesting a simple way to introduce this topic to your students: find art, photographs, artifacts, or documents about or created by children that relate to a unit or lesson you already cover. If you have lesson on the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, add this contemporary artwork by Lithuanian children about the gulag in conjunction with the lesson plan offered at the Gulag History site. This allows you to talk briefly about children in the gulag and children of gulag survivors, how memory/history is taught, and the fall of communism. Using visuals in your classroom activities not only helps develop primary source analysis, but also introduces the arts and media. A discussion of totalitarianism or the Cold War could utilize the Soviet poster and brief descriptor here.

The Children and Youth in History site, created by George Mason University and University of Missouri-Kansas City, is an excellent resource for students and teachers. It includes single- lesson plans called Case Studies that are written by educators and include a step-by-step guide for using a particular document or image with secondary students. For example, one of these case studies is based on the Thälmann Pioneers of East Germany. Additionally, there are fifteen Teaching Modules that provide an overview of larger topics such as “Childhood in the Slave Trade” or “Children during the Black Death,” a number of resources, teaching strategies, lesson plans, and a document-based question.

The beauty of this topic is that it can fit a variety of historical events, especially for the modern period. A study of industrialization can include child labor testimonies from Great Britain, Marx on child labor and education, and an excerpt from Boris Gorshkov’s Factory Children. A study of the Cold War could compare American and Soviet cartoons about the enemy. Any required social studies skills can be emphasized when considering images or documents by or about children.

A couple of new books are particularly well-suited to use in secondary history classes. Eugene Yelchin’s Newbery Honor Book on the Stalinist Terror, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, is a gripping read. The book has an attractive and accessible (though not particularly deep) discussion of Soviet life referenced in the book at to help students understand the story better. Advanced students might compare Yelchin’s book to Lydia Chukovskaia’s novella Sofia Petrovna (the Terror through the eyes of a mother) to discuss Soviet society and politics from two perspectives. Another notable book is Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia. The author recalls her childhood as a Polish deportee in the Soviet Union during World War II. She conveys a sense of what life was like in the USSR during the war.

My appeal to you to incorporate childhood into your history courses is threefold: 1.) Pedagogues tell us that students need “hooks” in order to connect new information with something they already know. Children’s history has an advantage here because your students will feel that “childhood” is familiar territory, even if you are talking about children or childhood in another time or place; 2.) You can hit multiple learning objectives by discussing childhood without adding burdensome work to your full plate; and 3.) your students will respond to these sources, which will help them enjoy history more than they think they do!

[1] I am in the state of Texas, so I am referencing Chapter 113 of the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for Social Studies, Subsection C., available at

Julie deGraffenried, Children in the Russian History Survey

Integrating Children, Childhood, and Youth into the Undergraduate Russian Survey

Since Jackie so ably made the case for the importance of introducing childhood and youth to history students, I’ll move on to discuss how this can be done in the undergraduate classroom. Like many of you, I teach a two-semester introductory survey, broken into “Russia to 1861” and “Russia Since 1861.”

Getting students to think about age as a useful category of analysis is both easier and harder than you might think. For whatever reasons, exercises involving children/youth are among the most popular I do in survey courses. Maybe analyzing children seems “easier” to undergraduates than probing gender or class or economics. After all, students know they have experience as children. For traditional college students, their childhoods are still quite near. The idea that age (both chronological and developmental) is a key factor in how people experience, interpret, and engage the world around them makes sense to them. Students often express that they find sources about or by children relatable, and their collective reactions – often passionate and empathetic – affirm this engagement.

The flipside of this enthusiasm is that students tend to think they “get” childhood and youth because they ARE (or were) children and youth – in the same way that American college students think they “know” American history simply because they are American. Without some prodding, their analysis can be limited in depth or sophistication, or limited by their own childhood experiences. There is a tendency to overpersonalize and underanalyze – i.e., “If I were in this situation, I would …” or “This was not a normal childhood because …” – which is not necessarily the point of the exercise. The trick, then, is to draw students in with the accessibility and interest that sources about children seem to generate, while continually pushing them to think like a historian.

There is a wealth of resources available for and relevant to childhood and youth in Russian history, though most are applicable to the second half or a twentieth-century survey. In addition to those listed by Jackie in her previous post, here are some of my favorite primary sources.

Russia to 1861Domostroi is a great way to introduce the concept of childhood, and to questions about parent-child relationships, gender and childhood, definitions of childhood, upbringing, Orthodoxy and childhood, and, as an elite document, class and childhood. Students can use Carolyn Pouncy’s edition or excerpts like these. Another kind of childhood can be explored using either A Life Under Russian Serfdom: The Memoirs of Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii by Savva Purlevskii, translated and edited by Boris B. Gorshkov, or Up from Serfdom: My Childhood and Youth in Russia, 1804-1824 by Aleksandr Nikitenko, translated by Helen Jacobson. With these, childhood can be related to serfdom, society, material culture, family, and transitions to youth and adulthood. A comparison of Nikitenko’s memoir with Leo Tolstoy’s semi-autobiographical Childhood could be productive. Karolina Pavlova’s A Double Life helps to illuminate the position and options of girls in elite imperial society, while Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons is the quintessential generations novel.

Russia Since 1861 – Tian-Shaanskaia’s Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia, edited by David Ransel, leads to excellent discussions about “modern” childhood. Memoirs about childhood include S. I. Kanatchikov’s From the Story of My Life, Nina Lugovskaya’s I Want to Live, Anatole Konstantin’s A Red Boyhood, Ella Fonyakova’s That Winter’s Bread: A Child’s View of the Leningrad Siege (fiction, but autobiographical), or Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs. Don Raleigh’s recent oral history project, Soviet Baby Boomers, provides another way to explore Soviet childhood and youth. The website Seventeen Moments has a wealth of resources: for example, the 1921 subheading “Homeless Children” includes an essay by Lewis Siegelbaum, 8 images, a musical selection (with lyrics translated into English), and two videos. Children feature prominently in Soviet posters, and good collections can be found in the Swarthmore Peace Collection and, where you can create a customized collection based on date or topic. Young Pioneer music can be found here. Film excerpts – i.e., Eisenstein’s Odessa steps scene or the Teutonic Knights burning children in “Aleksandr Nevskii” –  provoke discussion about the constructs and uses of childhood/children in the arts and propaganda, as can whole films such as “Ivan’s Childhood,” made available with English subtitles by MosFilm, and Soviet animation such as “Pioneer Violin” or “The Millionaire.” Material culture and questions of place and space can be explored at the excellent virtual museum at “Communal Living in Russia” where students can create their own tours utilizing the site’s essays, photographs, videos, and documents.

Incorporating childhood and children’s history into your Russian survey courses has several benefits. For most of your students, children offer a “new” historical voice they have never considered. Talking about children or the construction of childhood will complicate their perceptions of the family, education, and culture in Russian history. It will certainly enrich your discussions about Soviet society, generational change, and memory: because the creation of the New Soviet Man so depended on the state’s success (real or imagined) in bringing up children properly, children were critical symbols of Soviet achievement. Pedagogically, the topic adapts easily to primary source, media, or image analysis, writing assignments, or book discussions. Perhaps most importantly, you will provide your students with a set of questions and an approach that can be used productively in their other history courses or future research.


Jacqueline Olich, Part II: Resources for American and Soviet Childhood
Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, "1919" (1934)

For much of the twentieth century, the United States and the Soviet Union were superpowers engaged in a struggle against one another in which children were held up as symbols of each state’s successes and failures.  Aspects of my comparative approach could be applied to a Cold War course or unit, a World Since 1945 survey, or even an Advanced Placement European, World or U.S. History setting.


To introduce students—perhaps in a historical methods context—to the history of childhood, direct them to read and discuss the following underpinnings of the field:

  • Philippe Aries, “Education and the Concept of Childhood,” in Childhood in America, pp. 283-285.
  • Claudia Castaneda, Introduction to Figurations: Child, Bodies, Worlds (2002)
  • Stephanie Coontz, “In Search of a Golden Age
  • Hugh Cunningham, “Histories of Childhood,” The American Historical Review 103:4 (October 1998): 1195-1208.
  • Paula Fass and Mary Ann Mason, Introduction to Childhood in America (2000), pp. 1-7.
  • Mary Jo Maynes, “Age as a Category of Historical Analysis: History, Agency, and Narratives of Childhood,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 1:1 (2008): 114-124.
  • Steven Mintz, Huck’s Raft, Preface
  • Steven Mintz, “Reflections on Age as a Category of Historical Analysis,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 1,1 (2008): 91-94.
  • Steven Mintz, “Why The History of Childhood Matters,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 5:1 (Winter 2012): 15-28.
  • Leslie Paris, “Through the Looking Glass: Age, Stages, and Historical Analysis,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 1,1 (2008): 106-113.
  • Larry Wolff, “Then I Imagine a Child: The Idea of Childhood and the Philosophy of Memory in the Enlightenment,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 31:4: 377-401

A military history unit could integrate child soldier memoirs or scholarly studies of children and war.  Here, I recommend the following:

  • Children and War: A Historical Anthology. Edited by James Marten. New York: NYU Press, 2002.

Employ these two readings in dialogue with each other to get students thinking about how children in the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. endured World War II:

  • Lisa Kirschenbaum, “Innocent Victims and Heroic Defenders: Children and the Siege of Leningrad”, Children and War, pp. 279-290.
  • Robert William Kirk, “American Children in the Second World War,” in Childhood in America, pp. 269-271.

Prepare film studies with the following reading:

  • Alexander Prokhorov, “Arresting Development: A Brief History of Soviet Cinema for Children and Adolescents, in Russian Children’s Literature and Culture, pp. 129-148.

In reconstructing children’s experiences, historians tap a wide range of sources.  Share images of childhood in the Soviet Union with your students.  Frank Whitson Fetter’s photographs of daily life in the Soviet provinces represent an untapped resource to scholars working on a variety of topics, including Russian visual culture, the history of Soviet childhood and everyday life, as well as Russian-American cultural relations in the twentieth-century.

A student interested in researching the history of public health could be directed to Child Health History on the Web


Have a unit about émigré experiences?  Inject children and youth into the discussions.  Consider utilizing Jessica Clark, “Treasured Memories: Growing Up German-Russian on the Northern Plains,” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 5:2 (Spring 2012): 260-238.

Introduce students to school settings and the diversity of experiences in Russia and the U.S.S.R. through these sources:

Consider pairing these two readings to get your students thinking and talking about childhood spaces, past and present:

  • Rebecca Friedman, “Masculinity, the Body, and Coming of Age in the Nineteenth-Century Russian Cadet Corps,” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 5:2 (Spring 2012): 219-238.
  • Where Children Sleep

If students are interested in children’s literature, direct them to this virtual exhibition: Children’s Books of the Early Soviet Era

Use the following to spark conversations about youth, generations and historical change or, alternately, the Cold War.




  • E. Thomas Ewing, Separate Schools: Gender, Policy, and
  • Practice in Postwar Soviet Education (2010)
  • Paula Fass and Mary Ann Mason, Childhood in America
  • Boris Gorshkov, Russia’s Factory Children, Society, and the State: Childhood, Apprenticeship and Law, 1800-1917
  • Catriona Kelly, Children’s World: Growing Up in Russia, 1890-1991 (2007)
  • Lisa Kirshenbaum, Small Comrades: Revolutionizing Childhood in Soviet Russia, 1917-1932
  • Olga Kucherenko, Little Soldiers: How Soviet Children Went to War, 1941-45 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • Mary Jo Maynes, Birgitte Soland, and Christina Beninghaus, eds., Secret Gardens, Satanic Mills: Placing Girls in European History, 1750-1960
  • Steven Mintz, Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood (2004)
  • Jacqueline Olich, Competing Ideologies and Children’s Literature in Russia, 1918-1935



Red Feather: An International Journal of Children’s Visual Culture

The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (JHCY) is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal focused on the history of childhood and youth cultures and the experiences of young people across diverse times and places.


Society for the History of Children and Youth (SHCY) serves as a hub for both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research

Children and Youth in History includes primary sources, case studies and teaching modules.

The Working Group on Russian Children’s Literature and Culture is a scholarly non-profit organization dedicated to fostering closer communication among scholars interested in Russian children’s literature, history of childhood, theater, cinema, popular media, education, and other aspects of children’s culture.


H-Childhood is an edited electronic network focused on the history of childhood and youth.

The Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers-Camden’s Exploring_childhood_studies, an online mailing list which serves as a clearinghouse for the exchange of information, resources, and knowledge among academics and practitioners who work in the field of childhood studies.

Childhoods-net-l mailing list

Where are the Children? back to the Teaching History blog. After a research trip to Moscow and workshop in Paris, I finally got back to work organizing new guest bloggers. In the coming months we will be discussing children, communism, World War I, the Cold War and more.

First up: children.

As I began to work on my book project about Spanish refugee children raised in the Soviet Union, I not only began to read a great deal about children’s history, but also reflected on why I speak so little about childhood in my courses. Children are of course a large percentage of any society. While they may not be decision-makers, children are often central concerns of state and society. The modern state allocates vast resources to educate children and maintain their health and welfare. Even more sums are claimed by many states that hold that the child is the most precious part of society, the future of the nation, etc. In more affluent countries advertising and marketing geared toward children dominate many media. Yet, most historians have little to say about children in their scholarship or teaching. It seems to me that the conditions in which children grow up can tell us a great deal about state priorities, family dynamics, consumerism, cultural and social values, and so much more.

I, like many Russian historians, address childhood far less than adulthood. In the first half of my survey I give scant attention to children except for our readings of Domostroi and Village Life in Tsarist Russia. My Soviet history course fares little better with glances at children in films like Circus or discussions of Pavlik Morozov, education, or changing family policy.

At the First Russian Children’s History workshop (May 2012), organized by the University of Alabama’s Margaret Peacock, six of us circulated manuscripts in various stages of development. From this fabulously productive environment I learned a great deal about a field to which I, trained as an urban historian, am quite new. I came away with many good ideas about how to revise my survey courses and to create a new seminar on children. Two of the scholars at the workshop have been gracious enough to discuss with us their reasons for and approaches to teaching children’s history and the history of childhood.

Jacqueline Olich  is Associate Director of the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies and an Adjunct Professor of History and Curriculum in Global Studies Faculty Affiliate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to teaching Russian history surveys, Dr. Olich has taught courses such as “Classics of Children’s Literature” and “Kids, Communists, and Capitalists.” She has published Competing Ideologies and Children’s Literature in Russia, 1918-1935 (Verlag, 2009), which was based on her dissertation at UNC-Chapel Hill, and “The Russianists Love Their Children, Too”. Her posts will focus on why children should be more prominent in our courses, provide a glimpse into her comparative history of Soviet and American children, and suggests ample resources from which we can draw.

Julie deGraffenried is Assistant Professor of History and Associate Director of Slavic and East European Studies at Baylor University. She is currently completing a book about Soviet childhood during World War II, which is based on her dissertation (University of Texas-Austin) about Soviet children and the Pioneers during World War II. Her latest publication is: “Рисуем детство в Великую отечественную войну: оформление обложки и детские журналы, 1941-1945,” in Конструируя детское: филология, история, антропология. Edited by M Balina, B. Bezgorov, S. Sheridan, et al. St. Petersburg: Nestor-Istoriia, 2011. Because she has taught at the high school and university level, Prof. deGraffenried is particularly well qualified for her upcoming posts on children in Russian history survey courses and in high school history courses.

As always, we invite questions and comments and hope for discussion and conversation. Suggestions for future topics are most welcome.

Jacqueline Olich: Why Teach Childhood? Part I
"Street Scene" (1930) Frank Whitson Fetter Papers, Duke University

Everyone has a childhood.  Therefore, the history of childhood is accessible to students of history and intrinsically compelling.  It creates spaces for students to question implicit assumptions about both history and childhood. More history courses, I argue, should include a reading or project relating its contents to the burgeoning field of childhood studies. While the history of childhood is a young field (pun intended), it is a dynamic and growing one.  Inspired by discussions with Karl Qualls, Julie deGraffenried and other participants in the recent Russian Children’s History Workshop about the field of childhood studies, here I will share what I have done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Part I) and suggest some ideas and resources (Part II).

Part I: Case Study: RUES 699 Kids, Communists and Capitalists: Twentieth-century Childhood in Comparative Perspective

It would be hard to imagine a subject more difficult to teach—or more rewarding—than the history of childhood.  Truly interdisciplinary, the history of childhood must necessarily draw upon anthropology, art history, biology, demography, developmental psychology, law, literature, philosophy, and sociology, among other disciplines.  Unlike courses that can be organized in a purely chronological fashion, the history of childhood’s multidisciplinary character means that courses must combine chronology with topical approaches–including such topics children’s culture, diversity and inequality, children and war, friendship and peer relationships, and biological realities and cultural variation– and ongoing debates, such as how much childhood has changed over time and how extensively children’s developmental stages have varied.

Steven Mintz, “Teaching the History of Childhood

I not only accept Steven Mintz’s challenge, but add an additional layer: I teach the comparative history of childhood.  “Over the course of the twentieth century,” I write, “Russian children—like their American counterparts—grappled with far-reaching changes, with each decade or era characterized by diverse childhood experiences. Russia’s children played, attended school, ate sweets, acted in plays, and learned to ballroom dance. But, for many of them, the twentieth century was an extraordinarily brutal one. Like adults, children faced family disruption, starvation, arrest, disease, and death.”[1] By offering a unique side-by-side consideration of Soviet and American childhood and children’s culture over the “long twentieth century,” my course examines how adults sought to control children’s lives (this theme resonates with students) as well as how children experienced historic and quotidian moments.

 Ultimately, I seek to make the familiar (for most of my students, childhood in America) strange and the strange (the history of Russian childhood) familiar.  Students enrolled in my seminar engage in a comparative and interdisciplinary dialogue about children and youth.  Together, we study children in the context of historic upheavals–the Great Depression, the Gulag, and the Great Patriotic War or World War II.  We explore coming of age on the two sides of the Cold War; the centrality of school in children’s lives; the growth of consumerism and material culture in the second half of the twentieth century; state and market efforts to shape children’s leisure activities; and inequality and the diversity of minority experiences.

Here are some of the “big questions” that we consider: What was it like to grow up in the Soviet Union?  Was it intrinsically different from growing up in the United States?  In what ways do geography, class, gender and historical era shape childhood?  Who gets to define childhood?  What counts as a “good” or normal childhood?  How did the understanding and experience of childhood shift from decade to decade?

So who takes this course?  Given its institutional home in the Curriculum in Russian and East European Studies and my affiliation with the Department of History, once would expect graduate and undergraduate students affiliated with the Curriculum in Russian and East European Studies, Department of History, and Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures to enroll and they do.  In addition, students from the following campus units also took the course: Curriculum in Global Studies; Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense; the Department of Public Policy; Gillings School of Global Public Health; and the School of Education, including the School Administration program.  One student, a native of Russia who emigrated at an early age, expressed a desire to “better understand her parents and grandparents.”  The diverse backgrounds of the students not only makes for lively class discussions; it also attests to the broad interest in and appeal for interdisciplinary studies of childhood and the history of childhood.

My course strives to prepare global citizens who are adept at thinking in a comparative framework.  Importantly, students cultivate an understanding of young people’s complicated roles and relationships in the development of modern societies and cultures as they gain familiarity with some of the scholarly research and writing on children and childhood.

[1] Jacqueline Olich, “The Russianists Love Their Children, Too,” The Journal of the History of Childhood and YouthVolume 1, Number 3, Fall 2008 
pp. 445.

Wilson Bell: The Gulag Seminar

“Gulag Studies” has progressed enough, at this point, that it is possible to teach a
seminar course on the Gulag. Steve’s excellent posts on images and primary sources show some of the amazing resources out there. In terms of historiography, we now have a developed (or developing) literature on memoir analysis, oral history, forced labor and economics, official camp culture, resistance, release, women in the camps, sexuality, local studies, special settlements, the post-Stalin era, and life for prisoners after the camps, and more. There is even an annual, peer-reviewed journal titled Gulag Studies, published by the small publishing firm of Charles Schlacks Jr. Indeed, the problem for the instructor, at this point, is not one of finding and locating enough material for a course, but making difficult decisions about what to exclude. In this post, I’d like to suggest possible topics and (taking up Steve’s challenge) secondary sources for a Gulag seminar course.

Steve has already pointed to two of the best on-line resources for students and instructors, his own and the excellent “Mapping the Gulag” ( There are other amazing English-language electronic resources, too, including the sound archive, “European Memories of the Gulag” ( – in multiple languages).

The Gulag as a seminar topic lends itself well to the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom. The use of wikis and blogs can be an especially powerful way to reach students, who are comfortable with the on-line format and with expressing opinions “electronically.” If public, moreover, blogs are a way to break down the ivory tower. My 2011 course blog, “Communism and the Environment,” for example, had over 1200 unique visitors during the semester, from all over the world. The blog has continued to generate hits, with over 3000 unique visitors since it went live. But even a private wiki or blog would work well for a Gulag course. Students would have the opportunity to discuss issues and problems before coming to class; the class would thus be an in-person extension of what is already an active discussion. Because the Gulag is a topic that deals with issues of trauma and intense suffering and a topic that raises theoretical questions pertaining to state power and the nature of totalitarianism, an on-line discussion forum—whether private or public—could be extremely beneficial.

Structurally, I believe that a thematic approach would work best. If one wishes to assign a general overview of the camps, the abridged version of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago could work. Applebaum’s Gulag: A History basically follows Solzhenitsyn’s general argument and structure, and is more accessible. We now also have Steve Barnes’ Death and Redemption, which offers a scholarly analysis and, crucially, integrates the history of the Gulag with the history of Soviet state building and the Soviet ideological project. Both Gulag: A History and Death and Redemption contain chapters dealing with many of the main thematic topics for a Gulag history course.

Below I’ve outlined a possible 14-week seminar course on the Gulag, with some suggested readings (by no means an exhaustive list). The suggested readings will mostly be familiar to specialists, but hopefully readers find my arrangement and suggestions helpful. The order of these topics could easily be shuffled around. For more sources, see the two-part bibliography that I compiled with Marc Elie: “Selected Bibliography of Historical Works on the Gulag,” Gulag Studies 1 (2008); and “A Supplement to the Selected Bibliography of Historical Works on the Gulag,” Gulag Studies 4 (2011).

Week One: Precedents

This week one could examine the fascinating work by Andrew Gentes and/or Abby Schrader on the Tsarist-era penal and exile systems. Gentes is particularly sensitive to some of the similarities and differences between the Tsarist and Soviet systems, and thus provides a nice balance to Solzhenitsyn, who dismisses any comparison.

Another option would be to examine the origins of the concentration camp as precedent for the Gulag. There are some fascinating avenues for exploration with the Spanish reconcentrado camps set up in Cuba; the British-run camps in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War; and the German-run internment camps in South-West Africa during the war with the Herero. That all three of these early examples appeared in colonial contexts is not coincidental, and, for an advanced seminar course, it may be worth examining the extent to which the Gulag itself was part of a Soviet “colonization” process, as scholars such as Lynne Viola have begun to do.

Week Two: Understanding Soviet Criminal Justice

On the other hand, the Gulag was also the Soviet Union’s penal system, and thus some understanding of Soviet criminal justice is necessary for a full analysis of the camp system. Peter Solomon’s Soviet Criminal Justice Under Stalin remains the key monograph for this topic, but I also highly recommend work by Kragh (“Stalinist Labour Coercion During World War II”) and Kowalsky (Deviant Women).

One could focus on the Soviet police, and recent works by David Shearer (Policing Stalin’s Socialism) and/or Paul Hagenloh (Stalin’s Police) are quite useful. Shearer’s article in the Journal of Modern History, for example, raises a number of key questions about the growth of repression via the state’s desire to keep track of its citizens/subjects.

Week Three: Explanations

The historiography has developed to the point where there are now a variety of explanations for the Gulag. The main area of contention is whether or not the Gulag was primarily an economic institution of forced labor, or a political institution of repression. For a nice contrast that should raise considerable discussion, I highly recommend assigning the introduction to Paul Gregory’s The Economics of Forced Labor, the introduction to Barnes’ Death and Redemption, and the introduction to Applebaum’s Gulag: A History.

Week Four: The Peasant Archipelago

Stalinist repression of the peasants was key to the expansion of the Gulag camps and the “other archipelago” of the special settlements. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the Gulag through a focus solely on the intellectuals in the camps, incarcerated under Article 58 of the criminal code (counter-revolutionary crimes). The state’s antagonistic relationship to the peasants was a crucial factor for the Gulag’s growth. I recommend Scherer and Jakobson’s article, “The Collectivisation of Agriculture and the Soviet Prison Camp System,” as well as the many articles by Lynne Viola on the special settlements, or her excellent book, The Unknown Gulag, which adroitly places the history of the settlements within the history of the camp system. Nicholas Werth’s Cannibal Island, while not directly about peasant exile, is a fascinating narrative account of an exile settlement in Western Siberia that is highly readable for an undergraduate audience, and also provides considerable information about the inefficiencies of the Gulag and center-periphery relations.

Week Five: Gulag Official Culture

Perhaps surprisingly, each camp within the Gulag maintained a Cultural-Educational Department, nominally in charge of re-educating criminals into productive Soviet citizens. There is a growing body of literature on the subject of official culture in the camps, although mostly still in article format. Yet the topic of re-education is a thread that runs through Barnes’ book, and is also dealt with in some depth in Ruder’s Making History for Stalin. For article-length studies, see my own “One Day in the Life of Educator Khrushchev,” Barnes’ “‘All for the Front, All for Victory!’,” and Drasckozy’s (hyperlink is a .pdf) “The Put’ of Perekovka.”

Week Six: Unofficial Gulag Culture

The best resource for this topic remains the memoir literature. Steve made some good suggestions in his post. I’d also recommend Margarete Buber-Nuemann’s Under Two Dictators, as she has great descriptions of life in the camps and also provides fascinating points for comparison between the Gulag camps and the Nazi camp of Ravensbrück. Steve’s website, has excellent resources on this topic, too. Major research libraries may carry the Memorial Society’s Museum Catalogue, Art and Life in the Gulag. Some of this material is available on-line in English at

Week Seven: The Gulag Memoir

I recommend at least one or two full weeks devoted to Gulag memoirs. Again, Steve has suggested some of the more accessible and interesting first-hand accounts. For a short but powerful memoir, I highly recommend Hava Volovich’s “My Past,” in the memoir collection, Till My Tale Is Told. Unlike most memoirists, Volovich was not in the camps under Article 58. Other memoir collections in translation include Remembering the Darkness and Gulag Voices: An Anthology. There is a growing body of scholarship that analyzes memoirs from the perspective of literary criticism, and Leona Toker’s pioneering work on this subject is an excellent choice.

Week Eight: The Gulag in Fiction

As Steve suggested, Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales are both excellent, and raise many issues for discussion. Russian television has also made mini-series versions of Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle and Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales. I’m not sure when or if these will be available with English subtitles, but they are both high quality productions, and one can find clips on YouTube (here and here, for example). Although I have not yet watched the television version of Kolyma Tales, the version of First Circle is quite well done.

Week Nine: Oral History and the Gulag

Continuing with several weeks focused on the prisoner experience, Jehanne Gheith’s Gulag Voices: Oral Histories of Soviet Incarceration and Exile provides considerable material for class discussion, not only for what the ex-prisoners say, but how they say it, and what they leave out or do not discuss. Indeed, issues of memory and trauma can be discussed in some depth in relation to this text. Another possibility is Stephen Cohen’s oral history, The Victims Return.

Week Ten: Local Studies

Recent scholarship on specific camps is, I think, especially strong at pointing out the economic aspects of the Stalinist camp system. Articles on Norilsk in the aforementioned The Economics of Forced Labor, for example, show that central authorities could focus considerable resources and effort on camps that were viewed as high priorities, economically. Judith Pallot’s remarkable “Forced Labour for Forestry” examines the interaction between free and forced labor in Perm’ province. Alan Barenberg’s work on Vorkuta, Nick Baron’s on Karelia, David Nordlander’s on Kolyma, and others also provide students with an interesting picture of how the Gulag functioned in various locales.

 Week Eleven: Women in the Camps

Cathy Frierson’s English adaptation and re-working of Simeon Vilensky’s Deti GULAGa (published in English as Children of the Gulag) contains information and primary material about issues specific to women and children in the camps. The memoir literature is, of course, rich with material from women memoirists. There are two anthologies specifically devoted to women’s experiences (Till My Tale Is Told and Remembering the Darkness, mentioned above), as well as Ginzburg’s key two-volume Journey Into the Whirlwind and Within the Whirlwind, and more. Golfo Alexopoulos’ work on release from the camps sheds light on how the administration viewed women prisoners.

It may soon be possible to conduct a separate class session on sexuality and gender in the camps, as Adi Kuntsman has begun to examine this topic.

Week Twelve: Camp Personnel

Unfortunately, we still have little scholarly analysis of camp personnel. Mochulsky’s memoir, Gulag Boss, provides considerable room for analysis, and could be excellent for undergraduates, as the book raises interesting questions about what Mochulsky chose to include and what he chose to omit. There is a lengthy section on the guards in Galina Ivanova’s Labor Camp Socialism, and Nordlander has published an article-length analysis of the Dalstroi bosses, but much more work remains to be done. Recent conference papers (link is a .pdf) related to the topic show that more studies are likely forthcoming.

Week Thirteen: Resistance

Resistance is one of the few topics that has garnered considerable scholarly attention, mostly focused on the strikes and rebellions of the post-Stalin period. During the Stalin era there were also strikes and other acts of resistance (including everyday forms of resistance such as foot-dragging, data falsification, and other informal practices), but these have received less attention. Steve’s article on the Kengir uprising is very well done, and one can also look to earlier work of Graziosi (“The Great Strikes of 1953”) or Craveri (in the book, Free and Unfree Labour).

Week Fourteen: The Gulag after Stalin

Finally, several scholars have focused on the issue of what happens to the Gulag and its prisoners after Stalin. Miriam Dobson’s Khrushchev’s Cold Summer is the place to start, but articles by Jeff Hardy in the Russian Review and Kritika also point to new developments in this field. Both Dobson and Hardy’s work highlight some of the ambivalence surrounding the camps and Khrushchev’s “thaw,” but with a different focus and a somewhat different take. Alan Barenberg’s forthcoming monograph on Vorkuta, which traces Vorkuta’s development from prison camp to mining town, sheds light on the transition between the Stalin and post-Stalin era camps. Nanci Adler continues to research the ways in which ex-prisoners adapted to life after the camps, and work by Kathleen Smith looks at the issue of the memory of the Gulag and the collapse of the Soviet system. Some of the electronic resources, such as, cover the entire post-Stalin period, too.