- The Fly Swatter: How My Grandfather Made His Way in the World, and: Moscow Stories, and: Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger, and: Understanding the Cold War: A Historian’s Personal Reflections
In April 1969, a small group of students took over Harvard's University Hall to protest the institution's involvement in the Vietnam War. The students rifled through official files for two days before being evicted by the administration (with the help of the state police). Some of their findings—what they called "newly liberated documents"—soon appeared in a pamphlet, How Harvard Rules. That pamphlet outlined Harvard's importance to the national-security apparatus, showing how Harvard faculty members conducted research for the Departments of Defense and State, the Central Intelligence Agency, the White House, and (perhaps less surprisingly) the Council of Foreign Relations. As two wry historians of Harvard note, the pamphlet's "assumption of Harvard's omnipotence in the corridors of power … differed more in disapproval than in substance from the hubristic Harvard tone of the Kennedy years." 1 [End Page 689]
This brief episode neatly illustrates both a defining feature of early Sovietology and the conflicts that engulfed it in the 1960s. The protestors' pamphlet excoriated Harvard's Russian Research Center (RRC), now the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, calling it a "Cold War baby" that brought a "new politicization of the content of the social sciences," the purpose of which was "to provide the needed data and intelligence to expand and manage the [American] Empire." 2This vision, minus the word "empire," would have caused little trouble for the founding fathers (no mothers here) of the RRC; they clearly viewed their work as serving the interests of both government and scholarship. They saw their work as scholars and as consultants/advisors to government as undivided, even indivisible, aspects of their professional careers; their connections brought new ideas to the policy/intelligence world and new funds and attention to the academy. This model of Soviet Studies did not survive the 1960s, as it attracted direct and indirect attacks from a younger generation of scholars who saw the government ties as stigmata that demonstrated the field's corruption.
The events that shook Harvard and other campuses in the late 1960s left echoes across American academic life, reflected in the four life histories under review here. These life stories cover three scholarly generations, from Alexander Gerschenkron (arrived at Harvard as a full professor in 1949) to Richard Pipes and Adam Ulam (graduate students and then junior faculty members at Harvard in the 1950s) to Loren Graham (whose Harvard connections are looser and later; he embarked on his teaching career at Indiana before stopping off at Columbia for most of the 1960s and arriving in Cambridge in the late 1970s). Taken together, they reveal not just the personalities and politics of their subjects, but also some of the forces that united and divided the field of Soviet Studies. As such, they offer the chance to think through the intellectual and social history of Soviet Studies—and add to those histories the institutional history that so animated the 1960s debates but is notable for its absence from these life stories.
Nicholas Dawidoff's book The Fly Swatteris a biography of an intellectual—his grandfather, Alexander Gerschenkron—but not an intellectual biography. A journalist whose previous work includes a book about a Chicago White Sox player...