One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

The story of Ivan Denisovich is a telling tale of the human spirit and it’s will to survive. The author was able to make you feel the emotions of what life was truly like in the typical day of an inmate in the gulag. Ivan story seems to be a typical story of an individual that was accused of being a spy and guilty of treason against the soviet empire. The fact that other individuals in the same camp found themselves there under the same pretext shows it was a rather common crime, or in other words was a crime the government used to classify someone they believed had done something wrong.… Read the rest here

Know Your Enemy

Fitzpatrick’s chapter regarding the Great Purges of the Soviet Union reads like a dystopian novel. Even the epigraph at the beginning stirs thoughts of “Big Brother”; it reads “You know they are putting people in prison for nothing now”.  Fitzpatrick attributes this quote to an anonymous “local official”, circa 1938, the temporal heart of the Great Purge.1  This epigraph highlights a concept touched on throughout the rest of this chapter: no one in the Soviet Union, whether they be members of the communist party or ordinary citizens, escaped the wrath of the purge.… Read the rest here

German and Soviet Mass Violence

Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth’s essay, “”State Violence-Violet Societies” discusses the use of mass violence in camp systems. Gerlach and Werth analyzed the methods of violence, the intensity of the violence, the role of the State in the violence, and the ideology behind the violence.1 Gerlach and Werth argued that in Germany the eradication policies were multicausal and that the archival revolution in Russia allowed historians to grasp the foundation of Soviet violence.2

The part of this article that caught my attention was the section on prisoners of war.… Read the rest here

The Gulag- Labor Camp, Cultural Divider, and Implement of Mass Murder

Wilson Bell presented multiple interpretations of the Gulag (a soviet work camp) in his article. These interpretations ranged from describing the Gulag as a simple work camp, to the extreme of comparing the death and destruction wrought by the institution to be on the same level as the Nazi Final Solution. The comparison between the Gulag work camp system during the Second World War, and the infrastructure driven Holocaust which occurred at the same time, made me reconsider the role of the Soviet Union in the conquest of Nazi Germany.… Read the rest here

The Lagging Gulag

Professor Wilson Bell’s article on the Gulag comes as a response to the expanded use of the term in present time. Originally, the Gulag was a Soviet administration body that oversaw labor camps and later special settlements. The term Gulag has been used by Amnesty International in reference to Guantanamo Bay, by Al Gore when describing Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and by other academics to to describe work or incarceration camps throughout the modern age. Bells tracks the complex and irregular history of the Gulag to whittle down and refine the term to a more precise end.… Read the rest here

Gulag Historiography

Bell’s piece focuses on the historiographical analyses of Gulags. He notes that the term “gulag” has taken on several meanings throughout recent history and the term has even been applied to more recent examples such as Guantanamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. However for the purpose of his paper he defines a Gulag as Soviet-era prison camp.

The focus of his paper is on the developments amongst scholars about the possible motivations of these forced labor camps.… Read the rest here

Through-Lining Historical Perspectives: The Approach of an Historiographer

Wilson Bell’s article on the machinations of the Gulag draws from and interprets a great many viewpoints, with the primary argument being that though the term “Gulag” has been used to encompass a wide berth of topics, its primary use is to describe the Stalin-era concentration camps. Bell touches on various points of contention between different historiographers while attempting to find common threads of agreement that can stand on their own as fact in relation to the topic of the Gulag.… Read the rest here

Review Articles

The review article “Gulag Historiography: An Introduction”, written by Wilson T. Bell, a former visiting professor at Dickinson College, attempts to explain what an actual Gulag is. Although the term was originally used as an acronym for Stalin’s labor camps, it currently is used to describe various forms of labor camps all over the world along with having numerous definitions. The second review article, written by Steven Maddox and has no title, compares two books: Preserving Petersburg: History, Memory, Nostalgia–a compilation of essays edited by Helena Goscilo and Stephen M.… Read the rest here

Gulag Historiography

Wilson T. Bell’s article on Gulag historiography does not seek to define what a Gulag is. Instead, it is a fascinating effort to clarify the several definitions of Gulag in addition to the speculated reasons they existed. He states that there is no clear agreement among scholars and proceeds to list several definitions and contexts that have been explored. Bell also goes through the often debated economic and political motives behind the Gulags. His last statement, and perhaps his the most important, is that there is far more research needing to be done on this topic to add to the motives, goals, and contexts of a Gulag.… Read the rest here

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a compelling account of life in the Russian gulag system, based on Solzhenitsyn’s experiences. It deals with the various trials of living in labour camp, and strikingly presents the idea of the relativity of good fortune. A perfect example is the apparent good fortune of Ivan, because he sleeps in the barracks instead of the cells (165). However, the alternative example that I wish to focus on, is Solzhenitsyn’s  commentary on the Russian Orthodox Church.… Read the rest here