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.

The part I found most interesting is the excerpt on just how disgusting these were. While he makes a point to differentiate them from Nazi death camps; “they were not death camps, there was a desire to keep the prisoners alive” (15), the human rights offenses were not few and far between. He believes that the human rights offenses have not been brought to enough attention through historian work. In general, human rights offenses tend to be disregarded either because they are unfathomable or guilt-ridden. With this, what other explorations of the Gulag, be it life in the camp, or Soviet motives, need to be explored?

3 thoughts on “Gulag Historiography

  1. I think you did a nice job of distinguishing what the author is trying to say. As for your question, in the penultimate paragraph, he state that looking into memoirs about the gulags would be particularly helpful in furthering the research on the topic. So, investigating how the gulags affected and changed people in many different ways seems to be the next step in the research, according to Bell.

  2. I like the fact that this post emphasis the difference between Gulags and Nazi death camps. Too often do teachers and students lump them into one group. This author does a nice job of clarifying the difference based on Bell’s writings. I feel like a little more length and not ending on a question would have made this post slightly better, but overall well done.

  3. You make an important distinction in your first sentence by asserting that the author “does not seek to define what a Gulag is.” By noting Bell’s emphasis instead on the diverse historical and sociological research available on the subject, you distinguish this review as historiography. With regard to your question, I would be interested to read about the influence that the Gulag had on women, as Bell notes in his conclusion. Soviet Society at this time was very patriarchal and it seems as if this is reflected in the apparent lack of emphasis on the female side of this stage in history.

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